Former banker handed 3-year jail term for central role in scam

March 3, 2014

A former Newry bank manager has been jailed for three years for his part in a multi-million pound mortgage fraud  and money-laundering conspiracy.

Peter Creegan (47), the former manager of the First Trust bank in Newry,  will spend two years in jail followed by a year on licence after he was convicted of a string of offences, including theft and concealing criminal property, at Newry Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, on Friday.

The court heard that Creegan ‘sat at the centre ‘ of a web of deceit with his co-accused, ex-solicitor Peter Brassil and former Armagh estate agent, Damien Mallon.

Brassil, from Chancellor’s Road in Newry, was sentenced to  a year in prison and a year on licence while Mallon, whose role the judge said was minor compared to the others, was jailed for 12 months.

Jailing Creegan, a father of three, Judge Justice Burgess said: “he sat at the centre of this web of deceit, given his indispensable power to process the loans and to grant or obtain the necessary approval. He was in control from beginning to end.”

The three men were accused of falsifying mortgage applications involving eight properties and amounting to more than £3million.  The scam was carried out over a period spanning from 2002 to 2008, at the height of the property boom.  Some of the applications were made in the names of people who did not exist, while others were unsuspecting innocents who had their identities stolen and used.

Creegan admitted 18 offences which include fraud by false representation, seven counts of theft, obtaining services by deception, two counts of fraud by abuse of position, false accounting, removing criminal property, conspiracy to obtain a money transfer and fraud by false accounting.  He was involved in six loans and a number of fraudulent mortgage applications amounting to £3.34m, with an estimated loss of between £1.34m and £1.14m, the court was told.

Brassil pleaded guilty to nine offences including entering an arrangement to acquire criminal property, false accounting, three counts of theft, fraud by false representation, two counts of conspiracy to obtain a money transfer and fraud by false accounting.

The former solicitor – who at the time of the offending was addicted to cocaine – was involved in six loans amounting to £3.07m, which resulted in an estimated loss of between £1.35m and £1.42m.  He was also involved in the theft of £28,500 from clients’ funds.

Mallon pleaded guilty to seven charges – two counts of theft, concealing criminal property, two counts of transferring criminal property, obtaining services by deception and false accounting.  He was involved in three loans amounting to £386,000 – one in 2006 and two in 2008.

Detective Chief Inspector Todd Clements of the PSNI’s Organised Crime Branch said his officers spent years following a huge international paper trail as part of the investigation – codenamed Operation Radix.  The complex probe uncovered false identities and undisclosed companies used by the trio to carry out the scam.

He revealed that it took 30 detectives a month to catalogue documents and other material seized during a series of searches in south Armagh in 2009.

DCI Clements said: “Our investigation began in 2008 when we were advised by First Trust bank about irregularities at its Newry branch.  This marked the start of a massive investigation centred on three suspects and their activities in submitting, processing and sanctioning loans and mortgages.

“Loans were applied for using either bogus identities or the names of individuals who had no knowledge of the applications.  Each defendant used their respective positions of trust to obtain loans to buy land or properties in Armagh and Louth between 2002 and 2008 when the property boom was at its height. These were sophisticated and well-planned frauds which involved serious breaches of trust.”

A lawyer for Creegan said his client’s story was a tale of greed, hubris and a spectacular fall from grace, adding that he had “lost everything” and fully accepted his actions represented a serious breach of trust.

“He saw other people making money out of property and thought he too could make this sort of money.  He thought this was some sort of El Dorado where he could succeed without any of his clients suffering a loss. This was the cardinal error that he made,” the lawyer said.

The three men have been the subject of financial restraint orders for a number of years and confiscation orders will now be instigated to recover some of the stolen money, police have said.