Drug baron gets 18 years as judge 'sends message'
A DRUG baron has been jailed for 18 years for transporting €6.2m worth of heroin on the day of his brother's funeral after his tearful "performance" in the witness box was rejected by the judge.
Michael Byrne (36), of Old Tower, Clondalkin, Dublin, was found guilty by a jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last month of possessing 32kg of heroin in the Culmore Road area of Palmerstown on January 15, 2008.
Judge Frank O'Donnell described the father of five as a "drug baron" who was "no small fry in the (drugs) industry". He said Byrne gave a "calculated and well-rehearsed performance" in the witness box during his trial, shedding tears while claiming that, as a father, he understood the ill-effects of drugs on young people.
Judge O'Donnell said Byrne feigned concern for his children and described it as "a performance Laurence Olivier would have been proud of" but that it was perhaps "a tear too far" for the jury.
He said that Byrne fought and contested every issue in his case as every accused was entitled to do but it left little room for sympathy.
Judge O'Donnell said the sympathy he felt for Byrne's family was tempered by the sympathy he had for the victims of drug abuse, for the mothers standing at the back of court "craning their necks" to see what sentence their drug-addicted sons would get.
He said these sons may be as young as Byrne's daughter and the elderly people they beat to "a pulp" to get money for drugs may be as old as Byrne's parents.
There were no special circumstances in the case to exempt Byrne from the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence he added.
The fact the offence happened on the day of his brother's funeral and the next day suggested Byrne took a "business as usual approach" to his activities.
He added that he was going to "send out a message" with the 18-year sentence.
Detective Garda Gregory Sheehan told prosecuting counsel Sean Gillane that gardai in possession of confidential information mounted a surveillance operation on Byrne's home address as well as on the movements of a Volkswagen Caddy van belonging to Byrne and a Land Rover Freelander SUV.
The SUV left Byrne's house in Clondalkin that January evening and drove to the Culmore Road area ,where it drove into a cul de sac and Byrne got out of the SUV and into the van. It then stopped outside a certain address where Byrne went to the rear of the van and started taking out packages and putting them in a plastic bag. He began to walk down a laneway and was followed by the gardai, who ordered him to stop.
Byrne dropped the bags and ran. A detective drew his firearm and gave chase down the laneway and into a park. Byrne was found shortly afterwards, hiding in a wooded area nearby, and was arrested.
Det Gda Sheehan said €640 in cash was found on him as well as two plastic bags. A search of the area yielded a large number of packages in the park and in the van with a total value of €6.2m.
Byrne maintained that he had been approached by a man who had asked to borrow his van and he had got a call to say it could be collected. He said he met a man he did not know and agreed to give him a lift to the airport.
He said he later returned to the area to collect his van and as he drove it he heard a banging in the back. He claimed this was the first time he saw the drugs in the van.
Byrne told gardai he was attempting to get rid of the drugs when he was intercepted by gardai. He said he was leaving them in an area where the person who owned them could collect them. Det Gda Sheehan said gardai did not accept this version of events.
Byrne has 19 previous convictions including assaulting gardai, larceny and handling stolen property.
Peter Finlay, defending, had handed letters of reference into the court at the sentence hearing and said he had little else to add.