FBI uses anti-mafia law against Irish Travellers in scam probe
US authorities have used legislation designed to target the mafia in a bid to bring down what they allege is a major Irish Traveller gang.
A group of 19 Irish Travellers are facing up to 20 years in jail if convicted following an FBI investigation into construction scams and other alleged swindle schemes. Details of the fraud and racketeering charges against 19 Travellers emerged in a 17-page indictment filed with a court in South Carolina.
According to the indictment, the group, which the FBI has described as a criminal organisation, were involved in several scams ranging from fraudulent construction work to defrauding banks and insurance companies.
The charges are being brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly called the RICO Act, which was originally introduced in the 1970s to prosecute mafia members.
They carry a maximum fine of $250,000 (€224,000) and up to two decades in prison.
A raid on the group's camp in North Carolina - dubbed Murphy Village - uncovered luxury BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Audi and Lexus cars and expensive jewellery. It is claimed these were acquired fraudulently or using the proceeds of fraud.
All 19 defendants, who include members of the Carroll, Sherlock and Mulholland Traveller families, have been granted bail.
The FBI launched an inquiry into the group as their alleged activities occurred in several states.
According to the indictment, which has been seen by the Irish Independent, the group was an organised gang engaged in:
• defrauding US Government agencies by using false information to claim food stamp benefits, healthcare benefits and tax refunds and credits they were not entitled to;
• defrauding financial institutions and other lenders, as well as insurance companies;
• fraudulently obtaining car loans then clocking the cars bought and selling them on;
• preying on "vulnerable and naïve" victims through various crimes, including theft, swindling, and deceptive and fraudulent construction and service work;
• laundering money to conceal ownership and control of the cash, including structuring withdrawals and deposits to keep them below $10,000 (€8,980) to avoid banking reporting requirements.
The indictment named the defendants as Hannah, Catherine, Anthony, Jimmy J, Mary, Renee and William Carroll, Caroline, Johnny M, Mary Rita, Leslie Ann, Susan and Tommy Sherlock, Jimmy and Leslie C Gorman, two women called Rose Mulholland, and Kim Mulholland, Mary Costello, Johnny Mack, Leonard New and Angela Askew.
The FBI is seeking the handover of 25 vehicles, most of which are luxury models, and five properties in North Augusta, South Carolina.
The properties were registered in the names of female members of the alleged gang.
A large community of Irish Travellers has lived in the area for decades and is thought to number 1,400.
Residents of Murphy Village had previously been associated in press reports with shoddy repair work.
A local county sheriff recently warned residents to be wary of Irish Travellers offering construction and repair services.
The FBI indictment said some residents of Murphy Village had built large homes and that while the men travelled to other States to work in various construction jobs, the women generally remained there.
It said the village was "insular and isolated" and that residents "speak a unique dialect of English and Gaelic, which is called Cant, in addition to normal English".
Defence lawyer Jack Swerling said the defendants were "upset" and didn't know that the indictment was coming.
"A lot of them are family, so they are going through this together. At least they have each other," he said.
Mr Swerling said that such was the number of charges levelled by the FBI, he believed it would be a very "paper intensive case", with 40,000 or 50,000 pages of documents put before the court.
"Any time you are dealing with insurance companies or banking, you have an enormous amount of paperwork," he told reporters.
Mr Swerling said it would take several months for the defence team to go through all of the documents.