Three bungling Brazilians planned to strike fear in town, writes Robin Schiller
Three Brazilian men were armed with a rusty submachine gun and the wrong ammunition for a shotgun when they were on their way to shoot up a property in a Midlands town, a court has heard.
One of the men admitted to gardaí during interview that they intended to threaten someone by firing at the house but denied it was a murder mission.
Evidence of their foiled plot, which included a driver who was tasked with collecting the weapons getting lost twice en route, was heard in Tullamore Circuit Court yesterday.
Ildomar Cabrar Da Silva (29), of no fixed abode, Jefferson Dos Santos (35) of Ballymahon, Co Longford and Hugo Henrique Rodrigues (23), of the same address in Ballymahon, were all arrested on May 27 last during a Garda operation in which the weapons were recovered.
Last week they pleaded guilty to possession of a submachine gun, a sawn-off shotgun and ammunition on River Street in Clara, Co Offaly.
They have also admitted breaching Covid regulations by leaving a place of residence without a reasonable excuse at the same location on the same date.
The only insight of their intentions was given by one accused during his Garda interviews.
Hugo Rodrigues, who arrived in Ireland two years ago as a tourist, initially claimed he had visited the Cliffs of Moher with his girlfriend and flatmate dos Santos earlier that day and later travelled to Lahinch before returning to his home in Ballymahon.
He said he only became aware there were firearms in the car a short time before gardaí intervened.
Det Sgt Caroline Lyng told prosecutor Garnet Orange SC that as the interview progressed Rodrigues, by far the youngest of the accused, provided more information. He indicated he had known for a week “a job” was being discussed.
Extracts from his interview were read to the court, during which he said he had collected the “bag with the guns” earlier that night but that he got lost twice on the way, and it “took so long to get the guns”.
At one stage he told the detectives: “When you come back, I will give you the real truth.” The court heard he also described those involved as “dangerous” and “these people have connections”.
He added, ”I will be a rat” and told gardaí “the plan was not to murder someone”, but they intended to threaten an unnamed individual by shooting at their house.
Prosecutor Garnet Orange SC took Det Sgt Caroline Lyng through the facts of the case.
She told the court gardaí undertook an investigation on May 26 last and at 9.10pm saw a silver Volkswagen Passat travel through the M4 toll plaza at Kilcock from the Dublin direction.
A short time later the car was observed at the Apple Green garage at Enfield fuelling up, and at 11.10pm one of the accused, Dos Santos, was seen putting fuel into a green plastic container at a service station in Kilbeggan before paying for it.
There were no further sightings of the vehicles until 12.25am the following morning when the Volkswagen was stopped on River Street, Clara with all three men on board.
Dos Santos was in the rear of the vehicle and Da Silva was the front seat passenger while the car was being driven by Rodrigues.
Det Sgt Lyng said all three were wearing plastic gloves and a search of the car led to gardaí discovering a submachine gun, 16 rounds of 9mm ammunition in a magazine, a sawn-off shotgun as well as four cartridges. None of the weapons were loaded.
Details of their foiled mission, using ill-equipped and malfunctioning weapons, were also given. One of the gunmen relied on Google maps to get them to their target.
The court heard the PPS submachine gun was sent for analysis with a ballistic specialist describing the weapon as being in a poor condition, rusted and having had the serial number erased deliberately. The ballistics sergeant also established the modified weapon was designed to work semi-automatically and fully-automatically, but it jammed after each shot when tested.
Four 12-gauge shotgun rounds recovered from the car were in very good condition, the court heard, but were not suitable or capable of being discharged from the 20-gauge double barrel shotgun seized.
Det Sgt Lyng said mobile phones belonging to the defendants were also analysed which included communications between the relevant parties.
She said an address of significance in the Tullamore area had been entered into Google maps on the phone belonging to da Silva.
All three were arrested under Section 30 of the Offence Against the State Act and interviewed, with dos Santos and da Silva offering gardaí explanations for being in Clara without inculpating themselves.
Rodrigues was the only one to make any form of admission, and his defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC said this came at a price as his client has been in protective custody since being detained.
Det Sgt Lyng agreed with counsel for Rodrigues that he echoed these fears throughout the interviews.
The barrister also pointed to the physical makeup of the court sitting; his client was in one corner of the room, with four prison officers separating him from his co-accused who were sat together.
Evidence of all three men’s backgrounds were also outlined by their legal teams. All had come to Ireland in recent years for various reasons – to work, for tourism, and to learn English.
The court heard Rodrigues arrived in Ireland two years ago as a tourist and had been working casually here prior to the pandemic.
Niall Flynn BL, also for Rodrigues, said his client had lived before in Spain for seven years and had worked as a barman. He had left Brazil aged nine and his parents’ marriage broke down at a young age.
Det Sgt Flynn said that while she accepted he wasn’t an organiser, he “was a aware a week before” of what was happening.
Brendan Grehan SC said his client was the driver and not the organiser, and had not come to the attention of gardaí prior to his arrest. Rodrigues had lost his job as a result of the pandemic and was hard pressed financially.
The court heard da Silva has 24 previous convictions in Ireland which include offences for theft and possession of knives. He has also been the subject of a deportation order since July 2019, having entered the country on a holiday visa.
Defence counsel Seamus Clarke SC, for da Silva, said his client had worked at various jobs including at a meat factory in Meath as well as other casual jobs including in construction and as a kitchen porter.
Det Sgt Lyng said he gave various addresses of residence to gardaí but none of these could be verified. He was also currently on an enhanced prisoner status while in custody, the court heard.
Jefferson dos Santos came to Ireland to learn English in December 2019. Det Sgt Lynn said he had a flight booked to return home to Brazil the day after the incident.
He has no previous convictions in Ireland and Det Sgt Lyng said gardaí are awaiting details from Brazil.
The accused also read a letter of apology to the court with the assistance of an interpreter.
He said he had come to Ireland for a fresh start and to learn English, but had found himself “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
Dos Santos told the court he has two children, a wife, and a father who needs his help and assistance, who is in critical care and can no longer work.
Padraig Dwyer SC, defending, said his client is currently aiming to improve his life in custody and is working in the kitchen area on 10-hour days.
The court heard he is also studying English and maths while in custody.
Counsel for both dos Santos and Rodrigues said they were willing to leave the country, with the former agreeing to “never come back”.
Det Sgt Lyng also accepted that neither dos Santos or Rodrigues were organisers in the event.
Lawyers for all three men asked Judge Keenan Johnson to take into account the early pleas of guilty of their clients.
Prosecutor Garnet Orange said the view of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was that the offences were on the upper range of potential sentences and seriousness.
Judge Johnson said the charges before him were serious and the fact the three men were stopped in a car that contained a submachine gun and a sawn-off shotgun, albeit not loaded, was a “matter of grave concern”.
The maximum sentence is 14 years imprisonment with a presumed minimum sentence of five years.
The presiding judge inquired about the circumstances of the arrest, and one of the accused indicated they were going to a property to “frighten someone”. Mr Orange replied this was indicated by Rodrigues who provided the most information.
The three men were remanded in custody and will reappear on December 21 for sentencing.