Double life of €29m cocaine trafficker
A TRINITY College graduate sentenced to 15 years in jail after a record inland cocaine seizure by gardai was the logistics organiser for a major drug-smuggling gang.
The double life of Garreth Hopkins (33) was revealed yesterday when a judge was told how he accepted responsibility for the haul of 423kg of cocaine with a face value of €29.6m, but reckoned to be worth at least €120m.
The shipment had been trafficked from South America through Rotterdam port and eventually imported into Dublin last June. It was hidden in a consignment of wooden flooring, which was part of larger load.
The drugs were then separated from the consignment but later seized by the garda national drugs unit at several locations in Dublin and Kildare.
The purity of the cocaine was "quite high", around 65 to 70pc.
Hopkins had developed contacts with one of the biggest organised crime gangs in the State, which was built around a group originally from west Dublin but who set up base in Kildare and Meath.
He proved his worth to the traffickers by successfully organising previous containers for the importation of cocaine and adopted an alias as well as setting up a safe house to distance himself from the drugs.
But his real identity was established by gardai when he slipped up and used his own PPS number and other genuine personal details in correspondence.
Until then, he had never featured on the garda radar, and had earned the nickname within the force of "Mr Clean".
In Dublin Circuit Criminal Court yesterday, Hopkins pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine for sale or supply at Ballycoolin, west Dublin, and at his then home at Beech Park, Leixlip, Co Kildare, on June 26, 2012.
He had been in custody since his arrest almost a year ago and had no previous convictions.
Judge Mary Ellen Ring said Hopkins was highly involved in the importation of the cocaine, which would have destroyed lives if it had reached the streets.
She said he was the type who did not come before the courts very often and was different from the usual drugs courier.
The judge noted that Hopkins had lost his job before the offence, but said many people found themselves in similar situations without resorting to drug dealing.
She took into account his lack of previous convictions and admissions to gardai and imposed a 15-year term with the final two years suspended.
She also backdated the sentence to when he was taken into custody.
This means he will serve a total of 12 years and, with remission for good behaviour, could be set free in nine.
The court had heard on a previous occasion that Hopkins was a director of a legitimate recycling company and a mining firm in Sierra Leone.
He has an honours degree in computer science from Trinity College.
He was made redundant early last year, and told gardai he was under financial pressure.
Judge Ring had previously adjourned sentencing to allow her time to consider testimonials handed into court.
She noted that the case was "clearly one of the more serious offences of this nature to come before the court" and said she must have regard to any similar cases.
Hopkins faced a presumptive minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Patrick Marrinan, defending, submitted that there were "exceptional circumstances" in the case because of Hopkins's background, his previous good character and indications that he could again be a worthwhile member of the community.
He asked the court to accept that in 2011 and 2012 Hopkins appeared to have been acting "completely and utterly out of character". He added that he had not profited from this offence.