Tuesday 20 August 2019

Building firm bosses jailed in pensions case

A WEXFORD father and son whose building company held on to pension payments deducted from the wages of employees, were each sentenced to five months in jail this week.

Francis and Damien Goff of Goff Developments, Horetown, Killinick were convicted at Wexford District Court of failing to pay almost €12,000 to the Construction Workers' Pension Scheme on behalf of their workers between November 2008 and December 2009. Judge John Coughlan who also fined the two men €4,000 each, called it 'a heinous crime'. He said the defendants defrauded their employees by deducting the money and using it for their own benefit.

This was denied by Francis Goff who said the company had no money and was waiting on funds from a Government contract.

The court prosecution was brought by The Pensions Board which investigated the company's pay roll.

Board CEO Brendan Kennedy said the Wexford conviction should act as a warning to other employers and company directors.

Judge Coughlan was told that one serious consequence of the non-payment by Goff Developments was that employees were not covered by life assurance.

In the event of an accident on site, their families would have been left without benefits. TWO DIRECTORS of a wellknown Wexford building firm which held on to pension payments deducted from its employees, were both jailed for five months by Judge Coughlan at Wexford District Court.

Father and son Francis and Damien Goff of Goff Developments, Horetown, Killinick were convicted of failing to pay almost €12,000 to a pension scheme on behalf of their workers from November 2008 to December 2009.

Judge Coughlan called it a ' heinous crime' after hearing that if one of the 26 affected employees had been killed or injured during the period of non-payment, their family would not have benefited from life assurance cover.

He ordered that the two men be taken into custody immediately and their mobile phones confiscated.

He set bail terms in the event of an appeal but refused to approve their wives Patricia and Diane as independent sureties.

The two women came to court to stand bail for the jailed men but when the name of Diane Goff was put forward, Judge Coughlan rejected her as bailsperson for her husband Damien.

'I won't accept it because there would have been a benefit from the money deducted,' he said.

Solicitor Pat McCarthy tried to argue that the company would have been the primary beneficiary.

' The two Goffs were. That means their wives were the beneficiaries,' he said.

Judge Coughlan said Francis and Damien Goff had defrauded their employees.

In addition to the jail terms, he fined each of them €4,000 and also imposed a fine of €4,000 on the company.

When Mr. McCarthy sought clarification on the judgement, the Judge told him: 'Talk to the registrar.'

He also awarded €3,500 legal costs and €320 expenses against Damien Goff.

The prosecution was brought by The Pension Board which hired PriceWaterhouseCooper to carry out an investigation at the company's offices to track the missing deductions which were supposed to have been paid to Construction Workers Pension Scheme.

A report was compiled showing that the company failed to pay €11,781 deducted from employees' wages during the investigation period.

A solicitor for The Pension Board said the money was deducted at the rate of approximately €20 per week on behalf of each employee but was never paid to the pension scheme.

The Pension Board began its investigation after receiving a complaint from the pension scheme in February 2009.

Pension Board officer Joanne Doherty told the court that Goff Developments agreed to provide information but it was not forthcoming.

She said that in May 2009, Goffs sent a letter to the scheme stating it would enter into a payment plan but that was never finalised.

The Board invited the directors to a meeting in January 2010 and while they attended, they were not prepared for the meeting to proceed as their solicitor was unavailable.

A further meeting was scheduled for February but Ms. Doherty received a call from Damien Goff to say that his father was ill and they could not attend.

There was no further contact between The Pension Board and the defendants after that.

Gerard Clarke, assistant head of regulation at The Pension Board said the payment of pension contributions was a matter between the employer and the pension scheme.

The Pension Board's priority is to see that payments deducted are paid to the pension scheme.

As no action was taken to redress the matter in this case, the Board decided to gather evidence and pursue a prosecution.

Mr. Clarke said there were serious implication of not paying the contributions in a timely manner.

In the unfortunate event of a member's death on site, they would not have been covered by life assurance and their families would have been left without benefits.

Marianne Kelly of Construction Pensions Administration Services told the court that Goff Developments' history of payment would have been sporadic up to the date of the offence.

She cited one instance in which a payment was made a year late.

She added that this would have meant that the members were out of benefit during that period.

In his defence, Francis Goff said the reason the contributions weren't paid was that the company was involved in a substantial project which went into dispute.

'It is still not resolved and it's a Government contract,' he said.

Judge Coughlan asked him to please explain why you deducted money from your employees and didn't pay it but used it for your own benefit and your company's benefit'.

The defendant said they didn't use it for themselves.

'What did you do with the money', asked the Judge.

'There was no money in the company,' he replied.

'It wasn't your money, was it', asked the Judge. ' That's correct,' he said. 'You used it for other purposes,' said the Judge. 'No', he replied. 'He still hasn't answered the question despite the fact that I've asked it 10 times,' said Judge Coughlan.

Pat McCarthy explained that the company was in difficulty.

'I'm not interested in a speech,' said the Judge.

Francis Goff said it wasn't as if they deducted the money and used it themselves.

It was deducted with the intention of passing it on to the pension scheme. 'You're bullshitting me. 'I'm actually not Judge,' said the defendant.

Mr. McCarthy said his clients were trying to sort the matter out and if they were given an opportunity, they would do so.

'It is my view that this is a heinous crime,' said the Judge, adding that the defendants had defrauded their employees by deducting the money and using it for their own benefit.

Mr. McCarthy said the directors had been striving and struggling to keep people in employment.

Goff Developments hadn't traded since 2009 but they didn't strike the company off because they were trying to sort everything out.

Judge Coughlan sentenced both men to five months in prison. He fixed recognisances in their own bond of €100 and a €300 independent surety.

'This was a heinous crime on your own employees,' he told them.

'These two gentlemen are now in custody. Confiscate their mobile phones,' he said.

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