Monday 20 November 2017

The father, son, their 'Bible' and unholy alliances

A court last week heard how a man who may have written one set of rules lived by another, writes Maeve Sheehan

IT was known as 'The Bible': the brothel handbook issued to the women who worked for the multimillion euro vice ring operated by Mark McCormick, who was jailed on Friday. The two-page manual, retrieved from one of his brothels in a garda raid, instructed prostitutes on what to say and how to behave when in one of his pop-up sex dens.

House rules included "no drugs" and "no drinking". "Smoke only in the living room with the windows open", "don't slam doors" and "don't rush clients: if he pays for 30 minutes he gets 30 minutes". They were not allowed to leave the brothel without telephoning their bosses first. They had to change the sheets "as required" and make sure "everything is well-stocked, ie tissues, oil etc".

Always take the money first, it said. Rates were "30 minutes, €130" and "60 minutes, €250". Describe the girls and give the price over the phone. When the client arrived, he was to be shown to the living room "to pick which girl he would like". The chosen girl was to show him to the bedroom, take the money first and then phone the brothel bosses to let them know she had a customer. Clients were "never" to be left in the living room alone, it said.

As for unwelcome callers: "If police/gardai come to apartment ask to see the search warrant. Check the date on the warrant is today's date. Check the address on the warrant is the department address. Ask for all the officers' names and what station they are from and telephone that station if necessary." It finished with a list of phone numbers for Donnybrook and Store Street garda stations, taxis and local pizza deliveries.

The suspected author of this survival guide for prostitutes is McCormick, then a 22-year-old computer boffin from Co Down who learnt the vice trade on the knee of his father, Peter.

A former reservist with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, McCormick senior ran a string of brothels in Dublin in the Nineties, advertising the services in In Dublin magazine.

When the ads were outlawed and high-profile publisher, Mike Hogan, fined, Peter McCormick turned to the internet. He was linked to an Irish escorts internet website, openly advertising his prostitution ring and those run by other criminal gangs until he was prosecuted in 2003.

McCormick, who was convicted and fined, retreated to the UK claiming he was a humble bed and breakfast operator. His son had by then been schooled in the business. By 2005, at the tender age of 21, Mark McCormick appeared on the radar of Operation Quest, the garda clampdown on the vice trade that had busted not only his father but other pimps and madams such as Martin Morgan and Samantha Hutton.

He had learnt from their mistakes. Morgan was clumsy enough to be found in his own brothel during a garda raid. McCormick stayed in the shadows, deploying his frontman Duane Killen, an out-of-work joiner from Newry, to do the legwork.

In February 2006, the Celtic Tiger was roaring and sex was one of its fastest growing industries. Operation Quest, led by Inspector Pat Lordan, was in full swing. One night undercover detectives watched a prostitute leave a Dublin 6 hotel in a taxi. They followed her to the Herbert Park apartments in Ballsbridge, where Duane Killen was waiting. She got out of the taxi, handed over an envelope and left. Killen walked some distance to where McCormick waited in a gleaming black BMW jeep. He drove like a lunatic, executing sudden U-turns and dodging through side streets. The elaborate manoeuvres failed to shake off detectives covertly on his tail as he drove into the underground car park in the upmarket Gasworks building in Dublin 4.

This plush apartment, which he rented for €2,500 a month, was the "nerve centre" of the operation. McCormick commuted there from his home in Ballaghbeg Park in Newcastle, Co Down, to maintain the slick prostitution racket. According to garda estimates, the business netted €25,000 a month in subscription advertising on the website and €6,000 cash every two to three days -- potentially €72,000 a month -- from his prostitution ring. So-called independent prostitutes paid a subscription of €250 a month to advertise their services on the website, organised prostitution rings were charged more.

McCormick recruited prostitutes for his own ring via an advertisement on his website. He paid the rent, covered the cost of towels, sheets and baby oil, and took a 50 per cent cut of the proceeds. The women shared what was left.

He ran two brothels at any one time with, on average, four prostitutes working in each. They operated from a succession of apartments across the city. The addresses included Herbert Park, Lad Lane off Baggot Street, and the La Rochelle apartments in Christchurch.

They stayed no longer than two or three weeks, moving on to the next address before neighbours or gardai caught up with them. Killen, the front man, collected the takings and signed the leases on apartments, armed with a file of bogus references from fictitious employers and landlords. Deposits were always paid in cash.

Gardai raided seven brothels before arresting McCormick late one afternoon in March 2006. Undercover detectives observed his frontman, Killen, stood at the top of Grafton Street, near St Stephen's Green. A woman approached and handed him an envelope, which was later discovered to contain €6,000 -- thought to be two days' takings from the brothels. Killen joined McCormick at Wagamama, a nearby Japanese restaurant, for a meal.

Detectives arrested the two men on their way out. In court last week, Detective Garda Larry Duggan told how they found €15,000 in cash in McCormick's apartment. A laptop computer was logged on to the Escorts Ireland website, the country's biggest sex-for-sale website, which is operated outside the jurisdiction.

But investigations later showed McCormick had the sort of administrative access to the website usually only available to those working for the business.

A spreadsheet indicated that takings from the month of January came to €25,000 for subscriptions for advertising on the website alone.

There were other signs of brothel-keeping, such as a list of girls' names, and money they were paid, the hand- book for prostitutes -- saved as 'The Bible' to a file on the laptop -- and a shopping list that included baby oil, towels and condoms.

None of the prostitutes complained to gardai about McCormick. They ranged from their twenties to their thirties, most were Irish, some middle class, some not. They all claimed to be in the job of their own volition and for the money: some needed it and some claimed they liked earning so much of it.

The Criminal Court last week heard how many of the prostitutes thought that McCormick's father, Peter, "owned" the brothel.

McCormick seemed happy to pin the blame on someone else. In Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last week, he pleaded guilty to acting or assisting in running brothels but he pleaded not guilty to the more serious charge of directing prostitution. But Detective Garda Larry Duggan said this was not so. "This man is at the top of the ladder, there is no one above him," he said.

But McCormick wasn't exactly working alone. The five mobile phones found in his apartment were registered in the name of an associate of his father's. And the unseen "madam" to whom the prostitutes had to report each time a client arrived for servicing was sitting at the end of a telephone line somewhere outside of the jurisdiction. What became of the cash is anyone's guess. Investigators reckon it was spirited out of the country.

Sitting in the dock awaiting sentencing on Friday, in a pin-stripe suit, open necked shirt, gelled hair standing to attention, McCormick looked quite the flash salesman, nodding gravely as Judge Tony Hunt delivered his punishment of a €5,000 fine, two years, six months in jail and 14 months suspended; a pimp for the 21st Century.

Sunday Independent

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