Gardai follow the cash to hit ATM gang in pocket
GARDAI are hot on the money trail in a new clampdown on those believed responsible for a spate of robberies, including ATM raids.
Officers are satisfied they have dismantled the structure of the highly organised gang responsible for a crime spree that netted a significant six-figure sum from robberies and violent burglaries in the past year and a half.
And they are now hitting the suspected masterminds in their pockets.
They have uncovered bank accounts opened up by men and women receiving social welfare payments, and found cash flows of between €30,000 and €50,000 being channelled through on a monthly basis.
When challenged by gardai, the account holders were unable to explain how they had accumulated the money.
Gardai have already seized some of the cash and other suspected gang members face action by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) in the near future.
The investigation team, led by Detective Superintendent Dominic Hayes, has already unearthed a big laundering operation, in which the alleged proceeds of the crimes were being used to buy horses and high-powered cars and 4x4s, which were then sold on to acquaintances and the cash put back into the accounts.
Officers have already made a total of 48 arrests in connection with their investigation, codenamed Operation Slope.
The team was put together in the south-eastern region by Det Supt Hayes late last year after inquiries into one gang heavily involved in ATM raids in the area were found to have connections to similar crimes in the border counties and in north Leinster.
About 20 of the suspects were detained under the new anti-gangland powers, which came into operation last summer, and were held for questioning under section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allowed detectives to hold them for questioning without charge for up to seven days.
Gardai carefully built up a profile of the main players and their links to other gangs and as a result of Operation Slope have prepared a series of files for the Director of Public Prosecutions, who will determine if criminal charges should be brought against the suspects.
The gardai from the south-east were joined in the operation by gardai in other counties in the eastern and northern regions and CAB profilers in the relevant areas.
Social welfare investigators have stopped dole payments from those found with unexplained wealth in their bank accounts while others have been hit by cash-freezing orders.
Some of those arrested have been questioned about participating in or facilitating an organised gang, a specific offence introduced in the new anti-gangland legislation, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years' imprisonment.
Others were detained under drug-trafficking legislation.
Gardai believe the main gang is based in west Dublin. The group is being blamed for a series of raids in counties Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny.
It also involves west Dublin criminals who branched out on their own to carry out further robberies in Louth-Meath and Cavan-Monaghan.
Further inquiries established links between the wider gang and a separate outfit led by a former Provisional IRA activist and two brothers, operating on both sides of the Border.
Senior officers say the gangs shared their intelligence and their personnel, including the expertise of a digger driver, who knew how to overcome security measures to steal the JCBs and heavy plant machinery used to rip the ATMs from the walls of banks and retail outlets.
They also shared a pool of stolen cars for their getaways after the raids.
Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy paid tribute to his officers involved in what he called targeted and intelligence led operations, such as ATM thefts (Operation Slope) and burglaries from homes around the outskirts of Dublin city (Operation Creeper) and said they were yielding successes since the start of the year.