A PHARMACIST (72) has been jailed for six months after she pleaded guilty to 21 counts of theft and fraud, where she stole €70,000 from the HSE in an elaborate scheme involving falsifying drug payment scheme claims.
Christine Crowley, of Main St, Drimoleague, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail, but Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin suspended the final two years of the term due to her age and relatively poor health, as well as her previous good character and the unlikelihood of her re-offending.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said that Crowley was a qualified pharmacist who used her expertise and familiarity with the HSE scheme to set about an elaborate fraud for her own financial gain. and there was no doubt but that ‘the criminality was egregious’.
‘She used her qualifications and intimate knowledge of the HSE and used her skill to falsify documents over a period of years,’ he said.
Defence counsel, Jim O’Mahony SC, told Cork Circuit Criminal Court that the past month had been particularly difficult – not just for Crowley who had been remanded in custody – but also for her elderly husband, John a retired vet, who was hugely dependent on her.
Mr O’Mahony said that Mr Crowley (74) had recently undergone an unsuccessful hip operation and was also facing an operation on his other hip.
Mrs Crowley’s daughter Aisling said she had to come from Dublin, where she owns a pharmacy, to look after her father, while her mother was on remand. If she was given a jail term, it would pose huge problems for the family.
She was expecting a baby shortly, and would not be able to look after her father, so the family would have to consider putting him in a nursing home if her mother was given a jail sentence, she said.
But Judge Ó Donnabháin said that he couldn’t see how Crowley could look after her husband to any great degree, given her own health problems, even though her condition appeared to have improved if anything, since going into prison, as she was no longer ‘self-medicating’.
‘An aggravating factor in this case was that as far as Christine Crowley was concerned, the game was up as the HSE knew Christine Crowley was defrauding them but when the guards became involved what was her level of co-operation? The investigating guard told me – none,’ said the judge.
He accepted she was now remorseful and her guilty plea was significant in that she had saved the State the expense of a complicated trial.