Thursday 22 March 2018

Former Romanian orphan caught transporting drugs through Dublin Airport

Jessica Magee

A DJ and former taekwondo champion has been sentenced to eight years in prison with the final five years suspended, after he was caught carrying almost €140,000 worth of cocaine through Dublin Airport.

Stephen Hodgson of River Valley Drive, Swords, North County Dublin, pleaded guilty to possession of the drug for sale or supply on July 6 last year.

The 23-year-old represented Ireland in taekwondo during the 2008 World Cup in Italy but has since withdrawn from the sport due to early onset rheumatoid arthritis.

Medical and psychiatric reports cited in court stated he suffered from several mental and developmental ailments and described him as “vulnerable, gullible, and too trusting”.

Passing sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Mary Ellen Ring said it was “a clear fact that Hodgson had been used” but that he had also been an essential part of the drug trade.

Garda Stephen Enright told Dara Hayes BL, prosecuting, that Hodgson was stopped by customs officers when he arrived back from Brazil last year. He had taken an Iberia flight from Sao Paolo, via Madrid.

Officials became suspicious when they noticed that his lap top bag remained heavy even after they had removed the contents.

They cut open the lining of the bag and discovered two bags containing white powder, which were forensically analysed.

The powder was found to be 1.98kg of cocaine, with an estimated street value of €138,998.

Hodgson was arrested and told gardaí he had gone to Brazil on June 27 to DJ at various concerts in Sao Paolo.

He later admitted picking up the drugs and said he was to be paid €5,000 for bringing the cocaine to Ireland.

He has no previous convictions.

Gda Enright agreed with Dominic McGinn SC, defending, that Hodgson was at the lowest end of the drug trafficking ladder.

“He was no more than a courier, a cog in the wheel,” said Mr McGinn.

He described Hodgson's stellar background of sporting achievement, culminating in his representing Ireland in the 2008 Taekwondo World Cup in Italy.

However he said his client's sporting career was brought to an abrupt end when he was diagnosed with early onset rheumatoid arthritis and chronic anaemia in his late teens.

The court heard that he was born in Romania and adopted from his birth mother by an Irish family.

His mother and himself were malnourished when he was born, causing what's known as “Romanian Orphanage Syndrome,” although he was never in an orphanage.

This leads to significant developmental, educational and behavioural issues which are only recognised as the child grows up.

Hodgson was described by a psychiatrist as “too trusting, a vulnerable person and very much a victim” who was used by others to facilitate drug smuggling.

Hodgson's father wrote a letter to the court describing the behavioural difficulties they noticed with their son as he went through school.

“He is gullible and believes whatever he is told,” said his father.

A prison governor's report said Hodgson is doing well in custody and working as a cleaner.

He has completed FETAC qualifications in sound engineering and art and design.

He wrote a letter to the court describing the progress has made in prison.

“I have learnt so much about myself in prison. I now know that people who meet and talk to you with smiling faces are not my friend,” he wrote.

Judge Ring noted from probation and education reports that Hodgson is doing well in prison, where he is studying sound engineering.

“He clearly has an interest and great ability in this area, and there is work available to him on his release,” she said.

Judge Ring noted Hodgson was “particularly vulnerable due to his trusting behaviour.” She backdated the sentence to 6 July, 2013.

Irish Independent

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