The council, the criminals and the public purse: how CAB's extortion investigation raises questions for both council and gardaí
The Criminal Assets Bureau's extortion investigation raises questions for both Dublin City Council and gardai, writes Maeve Sheehan
Three years ago, Ireland was in the throes of the deepening homelessness crisis. Local authorities and approved bodies were under pressure to start building. 'Rapid-build housing' was the buzzword phrase of the day.
In Ballyfermot, in west Dublin, a Dublin City Council official was managing a site at the junction of Cherry Orchard Drive and Cherry Orchard Avenue. The local authority planned to build up to two dozen modular homes on a green space at the junction.
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But even before the builders moved in, there was trouble afoot - kids on quad bikes, joyriders and burnt-out cars. When the building work started in June 2016, public representatives were raising concerns about high levels of anti-social behaviour. The council official was also concerned about the activity, according to court records filed by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB). He would later tell gardai that he asked some local youths: "Who could solve this problem?"
Within half an hour, David Reilly appeared. Reilly "assured" him he could stop the anti-social behaviour. There was "no discussion" as to how this would be achieved, the records said, but the council official did not believe that Reilly operated a "legitimate company".
That didn't stop Reilly getting the job. It clearly caused waves. In September 2016, the Herald newspaper went big with the story that a notorious criminal gang was providing 'security' to protect the Cherry Orchard site. After the article appeared, Reilly and another man got into the council official's car. They accused him of telling the newspaper, and warned him.
The official, accompanied by a Dublin City Council solicitor, related all this to CAB officers at a meeting at the CAB's headquarters in February last year. Derek 'Dee Dee' O'Driscoll (46) and Reilly (36) set themselves up in the supposedly legitimate business of 'fence maintenance', but they were hardly your friendly local repairmen.
O'Driscoll's 20 previous convictions include perverting the course of justice, bribery and violent disorder and cruelty for keeping a jaguar and a serval wild cat caged in the garage of a Ballyfermot council house. He distributes heroin, cocaine and cannabis in the neighbourhood and controls crime in Cherry Orchard.
Reilly is his "trusted" enforcer, with 59 previous convictions ranging from minor public order and road traffic offences to dangerous driving and firearms offences. Gardai describe him as a significant player in organised crime, running things for O'Driscoll in Ballyfermot supported by an army of local youths he has schooled to do his bidding.
Their associates have been caught with cocaine worth €175,000, €134,000 in cash, a €110,000 stash of diamorphine and a PM-63 RAK submachine gun.
Their first client at the Cherry Orchard site was Westside Engineering, a company contracted by the city council in September 2016.
Eugene Toolis, a director of the firm, later told gardai that one day a man arrived on site whom the council official introduced as "David". David, he was told, would be providing 'security' at the site. David then left. According to court documents, "Eugene Toolis stated that he was then instructed by the council official that the security costs would have to be paid by him in cash and could be reclaimed from the council."
On September 23, Mr Toolis met the council official in the car park of an Applegreen service station and "handed over an envelope containing €1,200 in cash".
While he was still in the official's car, David Reilly and a second man got in. The cash was handed over to Reilly, he later told gardai. It was the first of eight such meetings. On each occasion, he would meet the council official in the car park and hand over the cash, although he didn't meet Reilly again.
Mr Toolis was uneasy about the arrangement and expressed as much to the council official. He would "promise this is the last week, and told Eugene Toolis he was helping him out of a problem", court records said.
Mr Toolis paid a total of €10,800 and said he invoiced Dublin City Council for €33,000 plus VAT for "fence repairs". He later broke down the bill for gardai in this way: "€13,000 plus VAT for the fence repairs, €20,000 plus VAT for the payments to David Reilly (€10,800 plus allowance for payment of income tax to earn this amount)."
After Westside came Adston, which inherited the services of Reilly and O'Driscoll at the Cherry Orchard site. Representatives of the company said they were "informed by an official of Dublin City Council that David Reilly and Derek O'Driscoll were employed to carry out fence maintenance", according to court records. The men would ensure there were "no problems of an anti-social nature on the site".
The criminals hiked their fee. Adston paid €1,500 a week plus VAT at 23pc to the pair and considered the money to be for "protection".
O'Driscoll and Reilly soon broadened their customer base. Around the corner from the Dublin City Council site, Co-operative Housing Ireland was working on another social housing scheme at Blackditch Road and Orchard Lawns, beside Cherry Orchard Park. There were legitimate local protests about the scheme, but also anti-social behaviour.
Michael McDonnell, the project manager with Co-operative Housing Ireland, told gardai the site needed security. He could see that Dublin City Council was building on a site opposite. But the council seemed to be having no trouble with anti-social behaviour. He approached Dublin City Council and was told "that they employed David Reilly and Derek O'Driscoll and that their problems had stopped".
A council official gave Mr McDonnell a phone number and he passed it on to MDY Construction, which was contracted to erect fencing to secure the site.
But MDY did not want to get involved with O'Driscoll and Reilly's arrangement. An unnamed company representative later told the CAB that they wanted to be paid in cash - which MDY was not prepared to do - they had no security licence and their fee was too high.
Instead the company went with Feilim Mac Criosta, who had been suggested by Daithi Doolan, the local Sinn Fein councillor. Mr Mac Criosta, a former Sinn Fein director of elections, runs a security firm, PAT Security.
Even PAT Security could not deter O'Driscoll and Reilly's vandals. Anti-social attacks escalated, culminating in December 2016 in petrol being thrown into a digger and ignited. As the driver fled, he was struck by a brick that broke two of his ribs.
Following the incident, MDY representatives met O'Driscoll and Reilly at the Clarion Hotel in Liffey Valley.
The criminals offered a "fence maintenance" service rather than "security" - presumably to get around the licence issue - but MDY again insisted it would pay only by electronic transfer to a bank account. Eventually the pair agreed.
Mr Mac Criosta was told his services wouldn't be required any longer. He later told gardai that he "knew their calibre, that they were behind the instances of anti-social behaviour, and that Sinn Fein could not be seen to deal with drug dealers".
Reilly and O'Driscoll each opened online bank accounts in January 2017 to receive their weekly wage for 'fence maintenance'. Over the following two years, tens of thousands of euro rolled into their accounts. The first transaction on Reilly's new account was €10,215 transferred from Adston in February 2017.
Unknown to them, the Criminal Assets Bureau was on their tail, although not because of their expanding protection racket.
Reilly was nominated by a garda criminal profiler in Ballyfermot as a target for the CAB in October 2016. He was suspected of rounding up local youths to burgle homes in Dublin and in the commuter towns in Meath and Kildare. Although not as bling as other drug dealers, he was splashing cash and living a lifestyle unsupported by any obvious employment.
Reilly was exactly the sort of criminal that the CAB has been targeting in cities and towns around the country; the local lowlife who flaunt money, have no obvious income and terrorise local communities with their illicit activities. What CAB investigators did not expect was that following Reilly's money trail would lead to Dublin City Council.
The CAB delved into Reilly's finances, examining everything from the bank account he opened in his teens to the online business account he opened in January 2017, which revealed extraordinary payments. By July 2017, €85,125 had been paid in from Adston over seven months and €35,096 by MDY Construction over the same period.
O'Driscoll was exposed when investigators traced drafts of €39,157 from Reilly's account to the AIB account he opened using the Irish spelling of his name, Darragh O'hEidirsceoil.
In July 2017, the CAB moved against Reilly. Investigators seized his mobile, an Ifor Williams classic horsebox and examined holidays to Las Vegas and Orlando. They traced him as co-owner of a horse called Ants in his Pants, imported from Australia in 2016 at a cost of €18,366.
Interviewed at Ballyfermot garda station, Reilly claimed he ran a legitimate fence maintenance business.
"How did you get these companies' business?" one of the gardai asked.
"I just approached the builders," he replied.
The heat from the CAB did not deter Reilly and O'Driscoll, who set up two new bank accounts and continued extorting payments from the construction companies that were still working on site. In August 2017, an MDY representative told the CAB that what was going on was "abhorrent" but he feared for the safety of his employees.
Two months later, MDY lodged €8,610 into Reilly's newly opened bank account and the payments continued for another year to a total of €64,575. Another company, ABM Design and Build, paid €92,557. The last payment into Reilly's bank account was as recently as November 2018, when the balance stood at €86,017.
The protection racket was finally exposed by the CAB in the High Court last Tuesday - an insidious practice that continued over two years generating €553,000 for the two criminals.
Adston, MDY, and ABM Design and Build declined to make formal statements, fearing the repercussions of doing so.
Ms Justice Carmel Stewart said there was no suggestion that the companies which paid over the money had been involved in any wrongdoing. The companies had no choice but to pay in order to protect and secure their sites.
The CAB's investigation into a couple of Ballyfermot criminals has raised a lot of awkward questions for the Government, for Dublin City Council and for gardai.
Sinn Fein TD Aengus O Snodaigh emailed Government ministers about the vandalism and feared protection racket from December 2016. But Tanaiste Simon Coveney said he didn't get the email, while junior housing minister Catherine Byrne said she was assured that Dublin City Council was dealing with it and the gardai were involved. Yet gardai said they received no formal complaints about protection payments and Deputy Commissioner John Twomey is now writing to all chief superintendents in all Garda divisions seeking details of any protection rackets that they know of locally.
Dublin City Council says it didn't pay the two men and did not condone protection payments, but has not clarified whether it reimbursed protection payments to Westside Engineering as 'fencing payments' or in some other guise. That may now be established by the independent investigation promised by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.
Reilly and O'Driscoll likely face a hefty tax bill and have to pay accountancy fees, after the judge dismissed their cheeky claim that their bills be deducted from their frozen cash.
Local councillor Daithi Doolan believes that their actions are not about the money. It's about criminals keeping a boot on the neck of the community. Others, less willing to be named, spoke of "betrayal" by Dublin City Council of a community under the cosh of criminals.
Anti-social behaviour continues. In July a security guard was attacked by 15 youths at a site where Dublin City Council plans a €1.6m skateboard park. Gardai investigated possible intimidation but received no formal complaints. Work has resumed.
The CAB plans to continue its investigations of protection rackets. Builders, communities under siege or anyone with information can contact the CAB by phoning 01 6663266 or emailing email@example.com.