'I worked really hard for my business - this nearly killed it, I lost €240,000'
Boutique owner Kay Mulcair feared she could lose her life's work as a result of the ruthless Eastern European ram-raid gang.
The Limerick businesswoman lost an astonishing €240,000 in revenue as a result of the raid Aurimas Petraska (32) helped facilitate in June last year.
"I started out over 20 years ago with my first boutique in Rathkeale," Ms Mulcair said.
"I built the business up to the point where I now operate three boutiques.
"But I work seven days a week to keep the business going.
"I have to work really, really hard to make sure the operation is successful. It hasn't been easy in Ireland over the past 10 years."
She operates two K Boutiques in Rathkeale and Adare as well as the Isobel outlet in Adare.
Ms Mulcair employs a total of five staff and her businesses are typical of the small-medium family run operations that are the life-blood of rural Irish towns.
"The robbery was bad enough, but I think what was even worse was knowing that they had actually been in the shop, checking out the security systems and looking for the kind of things they wanted to steal," she said.
She was also left shaken when she learned from gardaí that one of those associated with the gang had a Rathkeale address - not far from her own base.
"I really didn't know where this raid was going to leave us. This put us under really severe pressure," Ms Mulcair said.
"They are stealing to the point where they could actually put someone out of business."
Yesterday, Aurimas Petraska (32) was jailed as Judge Tom O'Donnell warned Limerick Circuit Criminal Court that business operators must be protected from the behaviour of such professional burglary gangs.
"This is a very serious case," he said.
"This was a professional job. This was premeditated and planned down to the last detail and executed with military precision."
"These are not victimless crimes," he added, noting business owners faced repair costs, higher insurance premiums and concerns over their personal safety and that of their staff.
Judge O'Donnell praised the tenacity of gardaí who worked for two years to identify and foil the Eastern European gang who employed military-style techniques in their reign of terror across Cork, Tipperary and Limerick.
A Garda team under Detective Inspector Joe Moore co-ordinated with detectives across Munster and even drew on intelligence from Europol, Interpol and Baltic State police forces to track down the gang.
The gang used concrete-block laden cars as heavy battering rams to smash their way into pharmacies and boutiques in rural towns.
Gang members wore military-style black overalls, had balaclavas, forehead-mounted flash lights and each had a large wristwatch to time the raid.
Every robbery was effectively ended once the gang had reached the six-minute mark - thereby evading gardaí by leaving the scene well within the average garda robbery response time.
The gang only targeted high-value goods, such as Chanel cosmetics, accessories and designer clothing.
Each targeted premises was subject to a careful reconnaissance by the gang before the robbery.
Petraska, of Church Street, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, pleaded guilty on April 7 to his role in three robberies which netted the gang €150,000.
Judge O'Donnell was told Petraska had convictions in his native Lithuania, Norway and the Netherlands. Gardaí believe the goods were shipped for sale on the Eastern European black market.
The gang operations were only foiled when detectives, supported by armed members of the Regional Support Unit (RSU) stopped a car at Shanagolden, Co Limerick, on June 28, 2016.
Petraska pleaded guilty to a total of five charges, including three of burglary. He admitted his role in robberies of O'Brien's Pharmacy in Cahir, Co Tipperary, on September 10, 2015; Isobel Boutique in Adare, Co Limerick, on June 21, 2016; and O'Connor's Pharmacy in Kinsale, Co Cork, on January 13, 2016.
The Lithuanian, who lived in Kaunas, dropped out of college in his native country and moved to Ireland in 2005.
He admitted he had helped convert old cars into battering rams for the gang by removing seats and placing heavy concrete blocks into the vehicle.
Petraska was paid between €2,000 and €3,000 for each robbery. Judge O'Donnell imposed a seven-year prison sentence but agreed to suspend the final 18 months.