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Judge’s warning over student ‘money mules’

A JUDGE has warned that students in Donegal are being used as ‘money mules’ by criminals in order to launder the proceeds of crime.

Judge John Aylmer made his comments at yesterday’s sitting of Letterkenny Circuit Court when sentencing two former students for money laundering offences.

Rachel Nyarko (22), Brookdale Way, River Valley, Swords, Dublin, and her co-accused Tiwalade Yusuff (23), Sommerfield, Castlebarr, were each handed down community service in lieu of a custodial sentence.

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Nyarko was charged with using a false instrument to set up an account with An Post and a number of money laundering offences.

The court heard Nyarko was fully cooperative and proffered an early plea of guilt. Judge Aylmer said the offence merited a custodial sentence of 18 months before considering mitigating factors.

These included that Nyarko had no previous convictions and went on to obtain a degree in business management.

She has not come to the attention of gardaí since, and a Probation Services report indicated Nyarko expressed remorse and victim empathy.

She was also found to be of a low risk of re-offending.

Judge Aylmer sentenced her to 240 hours community service in lieu of a 12-month custodial sentence. He took a number of other charges into consideration.

The court heard Tiwalade Yusuff was a flatmate of Nyarko’s.

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She was before the court on a guilty plea to six counts of money laundering. Yusuff was handed down 200 hours of community service in lieu of a 10-month custodial sentence.

Judge Alymer said Yusuff presented “very similar mitigating circumstances”.

He said: “She was aged 19 or 20 at the time and appears to have made little or no gain from it. She was fully cooperative and entered a very early plea of guilt.

“She is now working in London, where she has been for the last three years, is in a stable relationship, and has an eight-month-old daughter.

She has also been assessed by Probation Services as having a very low risk of re-offending.”

Judge Aylmer said he was concerned by the number of students being lured into acting as money mules.

He said the crime is very prevalent in Donegal.

“They were both used by criminals as money mules who make their bank accounts available for criminals to launder proceeds of crime. This is quite a problem. This type of offence is appearing quite often before the court.”

Meanwhile, Barry Breslin, Welfare/Equality, Donegal ATU in Letterkenny, told the Donegal News the Students’ Union is aware of the problem. He said steps have been taken to help address the growing issue.

“We invited community garda Anne Marie McGrath and solicitor Maureen Gallagher on campus to speak with our students about this. They were both able to tell students of past cases involving students.”

Mr Breslin said the problem can be very much hidden. He said factors such as the cost of living is potentially driving students into the activity.

He said in many cases naivety is in play as students are not aware that what is being asked of them is a criminal offence.

“It is very much a hidden problem but it is an issue we are aware of and we will certainly be inviting local gardaí and solicitors on to campus again to speak with students to continue to raise awareness.

“I don’t think students are aware of the full extent of the consequences of getting involved in this type of activity.

“It could stem from the need of a quick bit of cash, particularly now with the cost of living crisis and inflation soaring. It could also be the case of students falling into the wrong crowd and not realising what they are doing.”

Mr Breslin urged any students with concerns to contact the Students’ Union.

 

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