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Gambling debts led star croquet player to target woman in smishing text scam, court hears

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An Irish international croquet player ran up such huge debts from gambling that he conceived an elaborate “smishing” scam that aimed to rob an innocent Cork woman of her life savings, the district court has heard.

Court presenter Inspector Tony O’Sullivan said that Mark Stephens, 30, of Brighton Place, Foxrock, Co Dublin and Joel Antony, 21, of Castlegate Close, Lucan, Co Dublin had both pleaded guilty to a single charge under the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010.

Fermoy District Court heard that on October 7, 2022 the injured party received a fake text message on her mobile phone purporting to be from Bank of Ireland. When she clicked on the link in the message her entire bank balance of €11,500 was immediately taken from her account. The money was transferred into a Bank of Ireland account held by Mark Stephens.

The court heard that Mr Stephens transferred €4,200 of the stolen money into a Revolut account also in his own name that was then transferred into a CryptoPay account held by Joel Antony who used the money to purchase bitcoin.

The injured party reported the scam to Bank of Ireland who were able to trace the perpetrators and they managed to recover €7,094 from Mark Stephens. The remainder of the loss was paid by the bank to the injured party.

Defence solicitor Matthew Bermingham acting as agent for Mark Stephens’ solicitor David O’Meara said that Mr Stephens was a chronic gambling addict and was now a member of two gambling anonymous groups who had given him letters of reference. He said that Mr Stephens had run up a considerable debt and he attempted the scam out of desperation.

He said that Mr Stephens worked in the finance industry and had no previous convictions and was also a noted croquet player who had represented Ireland at international level. He added that he had admitted what he had done at the first opportunity, had been fully cooperative and offered his apologies to the injured party.

Ciaran O’Keeffe, solicitor for Joel Antony said that the two men were “utter fools” to attempt the theft. He said that his client was effectively letting money pass through his account and argued that he was less culpable than Mr Stephens overall.

He said that his client had turned his life around since the incident and would be beginning treatment shortly following a cancer diagnosis.

Inspector O’Sullivan said that the injured party did not wish to give a victim impact statement but she did inform him that the effect on her had been “very traumatic.” 

She said that to find every penny taken from her account was shocking and trying to recover the money caused her great stress. She said that initially Bank of Ireland did not agree to repay the balance that was not recovered from Mr Stephens but once she gave a television interview about it she was reimbursed the following day.

Judge Colm Roberts said that injured party had clearly been caused stress and anxiety by what had happened to her. He accepted that both men had no previous convictions but said that he would have some concerns about the way Mr Stephens succumbed to temptation.

He said that probation service supervision would probably be required for Mr Stephens and he also wished Mr Antony well with his cancer treatment. He convicted both men and placed them both on a probation bond for one year.

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