Courts

Thursday 24 July 2014

Fraudster Thomas Byrne had close links to ‘underworld fixer’

Ken Foy

Published 19/11/2013|16:28

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Thomas Byrne pictured soon after his practice closed down in 2007
Thomas Byrne pictured soon after his practice closed down in 2007
Brian Downes, an underworld 'fixer' who was shot dead in 2007

DISGRACED former solicitor Thomas Byrne, who has been convicted of stealing €52m from the banks and defrauding 13 clients, was closely linked to a number of major gangland figures in the capital.

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Byrne (47) of Mountjoy Square, Dublin, is facing a substantial jail sentence after a jury returned guilty verdicts on all 50 charges of theft, forgery and deception yesterday after deliberating for six days.

The Herald can reveal that one of Thomas Byrne’s former clients was Brian Downes, an “underworld fixer and facilitator” who was shot dead in a double murder outside his garage in Walkinstown, south Dublin, in October, 2007.

Downes was murdered just months after the garda fraud squad and Criminal Assets Bureau started investigating Byrne which led to his conviction on 50 charges of theft, forgery and deception.

Apart from Downes who was 40 when he was shot dead with Edward Ward (24), sources say Byrne was also involved with a number of criminals in the “dodgy car dealing trade” as well as a senior gangland figure from the Crumlin/Drimnagh area.

Brian Downes was previously arrested by detectives investigating the murder of ‘King Ratt’ gang member John Roche in March 2005. Roche was killed by the ‘Fat’ Freddie Thompson mob, but no one has ever been charged with that slaying.

The crooked car dealer was arrested on suspicion of providing the |getaway car in that murder and sources say that Downes regularly provided vehicles for the Thompson gang for criminal enterprises. At the time of Downes’ arrest, Byrne represented him, but it is understood he never had any direct involvement in Downes’ enterprises.

Another business associate of Byrne is Dublin car dealer Lee Cullen who paid over €2.5m in a settlement with CAB in 2006. He pleaded guilty in December, 2012, to seven charges of failing to pay VRT and received a suspended sentence this month.

Cullen, who ran a business called Exclusive Cars based in Saggart, Co Dublin, was friends with the late model Katy French.

He loaned the tragic model a €100,000 Range Rover, which she was driving on the night she suffered a cocaine-induced heart attack.

Investigations by specialist detectives in the Criminal Assets Bureau as part of a special investigation codenamed Operation Tie in 2007 showed that Byrne was linked to at least three car dealers who were involved in highly fraudulent activities.

But separately Byrne also counted gardai among his clients.

Garda Brian Whelan said he and his two garda colleagues used Byrne as a solicitor in the purchasing and refinancing of an apartment block on Dorset Street in Dublin city centre.

Mr Whelan told the jury that when he gave the accused a €1.87m cheque to pay off the original loan as part of the refinancing deal, it wasn’t passed on to their bank, Permanent TSB.

stared

Byrne stared down yesterday as the verdicts were read out.

Judge Patrick McCartan said the evidence was overwhelming against Byrne and that the jurors’ decision was “almost inevitable”.

Byrne was remanded in custody until December 2 when he will be sentenced.

After yesterday’s verdict, the Law Society pointed out Byrne had been struck off as a solicitor in June, 2008.

“The Law Society welcomes the verdicts of the jury in the Thomas Byrne case. However, it would be inappropriate for the Society to make any further public comment until the sentencing process has been completed,” it said in a statement.

Evening Herald

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