Wednesday 21 February 2018

CAB ramps up 'Rathkeale Rovers' tax investigation

Trafficking: Rhino horns were being sold illegally Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire
Trafficking: Rhino horns were being sold illegally Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The Criminal Assets Bureau is ramping up its financial investigations into the Limerick gang linked to an international spate of robberies of museums, art galleries and the illegal trade in rhino horns.

It follows the jailing of a fourth suspect linked to the notorious 'Rathkeale Rovers', Patrick Sheridan, who was jailed in the US ten days ago for his part in a plot to illegally sell rhino horns to a buyer in New York. Others linked to the gang have been served with tax demands of around stg£8m in the UK, while bills for similar amounts have been served on suspects in Ireland.

Since an international police crackdown on the gang, culminating in raids in the UK and Ireland, the spate of robberies has subsided.

The indictments against Sheridan, and his co-accused Michael Slattery Junior, reveals how the Travellers from Rathkeale moved easily into the world of international collectors and art dealers, from Texas to New York. Sheridan was sentenced on January 14 to one year in jail in a court in Waco, Texas, for trafficking in rhino horns, while his co-accused, Michael Slattery Junior, pleaded guilty in a New York court in 2013.

Their criminal caper started on September 20, 2010, when Sheridan and Slattery Jnr and a third unnamed person from Rathkeale, flew from London to Houston, Texas. They were there for a taxidermy auction in the city of Austin, where they had their eye on a mounted black rhinoceros with two horns - the horns being the prize.

On their first day in Texas, Slattery Jnr lodged €5,423 into his savings account in Bank of America, and went straight to the auction house where they tried to do a deal for the black rhinoceros mount from the side lines.

The auction house wouldn't sell it to them as - being an endangered species - it could only be sold to a Texan resident to satisfy a bill of sale prohibiting the buyer from selling it.

On day two, the Rathkeale trio "hired" a "day labourer" - who was a Texas resident - to do the buying for them. On day three, Slattery Jnr went back to the bank and withdrew two sums of $8,000 and $5,000 ($8,000 had been wired from a foreign bank account overnight).

The Rathkeale trio collected the day labourer and drove back to auction house. They weren't particularly discreet, according to the indictment. They counted out $18,000 in hundred dollar bills, and gave them to the day labourer, as the employee of the auction house looked on. The labourer handed over the cash, and signed an Endangered Species Bill of Sale, promising not to sell the mount.

The Rathkeale trio were only interested in the black horns. The auction house employee removed the rhino horns, gave them to the labourer, leaving the rest of the stuffed rhinoceros behind.

From Austin, the Rathkeale boys moved on to New York. There on November 13, Slattery Jn r "visited the home of a collector of Asian art in Manhattan" and offered to sell him four black rhino horns. The following day he emailed photographs, and two days later, the trio visited the home of the collector again, who had a Chinese client who might be interested in them.

The deal was done at an English tea house in Flushing. The Chinese collector bought the two pairs of horns for $50,000, along with a bogus bill of sale fabricated by the Rathkeale boys.

They were paid in cashier's cheque - three cheques for $12,500 going to each of the Rathkeale trio. Slattery Junior handed over his business card, bearing his address as Smithy Pen in Cambridge - the location of a Traveller halting site that was later raided by UK police. Sheridan and Slattery Junior lodged the cheques into their Bank of America accounts the same day. According to US prosecutors, all three also left the US that day.

The following month, the buyer was on to the Rathkeale gang for more. In an email to the unnamed gang member, on December 21, 2010, he wrote: "Hi I have been back in New York for a week, I am still waiting for more horn information. Are you coming to New York soon, with all horn image and info."

The gang member said he would be back in January.

Michael Slattery Junior was arrested three years later. At his sentencing, he claimed he was a landscaper who couldn't read or write but who helped his family out with their antique dealings.

Sunday Independent

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