Former barrister Patrick Russell is on temporary release from prison after serving two years of a three-year jail sentence. He still owes millions of euro to the dozens of people he defrauded.
ussell (59), was convicted of stealing €235,000 from a businessman while purporting to act as his agent in the purchase of a warehouse in Co Kildare. He is suspected of conning dozens more people out of more than €8m in three decades, crimes for which he was never prosecuted.
Russell, who suffers from a heart condition, was granted temporary release at the end of the summer and is believed to be back home in Rathcoole, Co Dublin.
But the businessman, whose evidence led to Russell’s only conviction, told the Sunday Independent this weekend he is still fighting to recover most of the €235,000 the former barrister stole from him.
Paul O’Connell, who owns a trucking business in Kildare, said he was “shocked” Russell was released.
“I didn’t realise he was out,” he said, adding he feared Russell could start attempting to con people again.
“Other people should be warned,” he said.
Mr O’Connell issued legal proceedings against Russell in the High Court in February, as well as other parties linked to the case. However, Russell has no traceable assets. “He has nothing in his name. Not even a car,” he said.
Mr O’Connell was defrauded by Russell after the conman was introduced to him by a friend and began to inveigle his way into the O’Connell family. Russell posed as a financial adviser and an arbitration expert and offered to help Mr O’Connell buy a warehouse in Clane.
Instead, Russell embarked on an elaborate scam to trick Mr O’Connell into transferring the funds. Russell forged deeds from the Property Registration Authority to suggest the ownership of the warehouse had been transferred to Mr O’Connell.
Mr O’Connell transferred a total of €20,000 to a bank account in the name of Mr Russell’s wife — supposedly to cover stamp duty and other fees — and paid €215,000 to a solicitor’s firm.
But he became suspicious about the provenance of the documents and reported Russell to An Garda Síochána, as did a solicitor’s firm. “He was kind of pushy,” Mr O’Connell said. “He was making up paperwork and the whole lot, and saying he was in with the banks, talking to them, but it was all false paperwork. He was making it up.”
Following his conviction for defrauding Mr O’Connell last year, an RTÉ Investigates documentary traced at least 60 other victims who were conned out of around €8m over three decades.
The documentary revealed one of Russell’s first victims was a neighbour, Esther Wilson, who was awarded a large compensation payment after she was seriously injured in a cycling accident.
Russell promised to invest the money on her behalf and Ms Wilson’s family had to pursue him for 14 years through the courts before he finally repaid it.
Russell, who grew up in Finglas, was a Sinn Féin activist and then a financial adviser before qualifying as a barrister. He forged a business relationship with the former taoiseach Albert Reynolds.
Tom McFeely, the former IRA bomber turned builder, threatened to sue him, and as financial adviser to Catherine Nevin, he testified at her trial for murdering her husband Tom. Russell was the first barrister in Ireland to be struck off for deception of a client.
Mr O’Connell’s evidence helped to finally put Russell behind bars in November last year. He was sentenced to four years in jail with the final year suspended and served two years by the time he was granted temporary release.
While Russell enjoys his freedom, Mr O’Connell said he has retrieved only €3,000 of the money that was stolen from him.
The €215,000 he paid for the property was frozen in a bank account. At the conclusion of Russell’s trial, the judge said she hoped the money could be returned to Mr O’Connell now the criminal case had concluded.
Mr O’Connell said this weekend the bank has yet to release the funds, which are stuck in a legal quagmire.
“I worked hard for it [€235,000] and it was all gone,” he said. “And I still haven’t got it.”
At his trial, Judge Melanie Greally said Russell’s actions represented “considerable deceit and dishonesty”.