‘Money mule’ in fraud scam avoids prison

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A west Belfast man linked to a bank account fraud scam has narrowly avoided going to prison.

‘Money mule’ Paul Anthony McCool, 32, of Norglen Parade in Ballymurphy, was handed a 15-month prison suspended for two years for his role in the racket.

The former car mechanic pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud by false representation which were committed on August 15, 2016.

The Crown Court in Belfast heard that the victim in the case had £85,500 in cash stolen from his three HSBC bank accounts between August and September 2016.

Crown lawyer Robin Steer said that £4,000 was deposited into McCool’s Nationwide bank account on August 14, 2016.

The following day, McCool initially withdrew £500 in cash and later the remaining £3,500 was converted into euros at the Marks & Spencer bureau de change outlet in Lisburn.

When questioned by police he denied being part of a “money mule” racket in which criminals used other people’s bank accounts to launder stolen cash.

He claimed he “didn’t know where the funds had come from” and said he blew the money on “gambling”.

Asked by the judge if McCool was part of a “wider scam’’ and his pay-off was £500 in cash as it “falls into the classic MO (modus operandi) of a money mule”, the prosecution lawyer said there were eight other defendants in the case who had sums of money deposited in their account ranging from £15 to £4,000.

However, Mr Steer said there was “no link” between McCool and the “eight other money mules”.

The court heard the defendant had previous convictions for motoring offences and now earned £220 a week cleaning cars.

The prosecution lawyer added: “In this scam, the bank has taken the hit and the victim has been reimbursed his monies.”

Defence barrister Jonpaul Shields said McCool had maintained throughout that he knew nothing about the source of the money.

He added that since the offences came to light, McCool had “stayed out of all trouble”.