Tuesday 12 December 2017

Traveller gang busted for ATM smash-and-grabs

Gangster on dole put €50,000 a month though bank


THE first garda prosecution file under Justice Minister Dermot Ahern's organised crime legislation has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) after an investigation into a Traveller gang suspected of a series of smash-and-grab ATM robberies in the south-east.

The file claims another breakthrough in that it is the first to be sent electronically by gardai to the DPP -- breaking from what gardai say is becoming a disastrously overloaded paper system.

The sending of the file comes after a prolonged investigation into the activities of a gang based in and around north Wexford who have been targeted by a special unit set up by Detective Superintendent Dominic Hayes, who is based in Waterford.

More than 50 arrests have been made and large amounts of cash and assets, including 4x4s, seized. The investigation culminated in the arrest of 10 men two weeks ago under the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. They were held for the maximum seven days for questioning under the Act.

It is understood that the file to the DPP recommends a charge of directing organised crime against a man in his mid-30s and of participating in organised crime against nine others.

Under Minister Ahern's legislation, the maximum penalty for directing a criminal organisation is life imprisonment and up to 15 years for participating in an organised crime gang.

The case is set to become the first test of the legislation, which was introduced in response to the increasing levels of gangland murder and drug trafficking in the State.

The legislation is similar to that brought in after the Omagh bombing in 1998 on directing or membership of a terrorist organisation. That legislation has been used successfully in several cases brought by the Garda Special Branch. The Sunday Independent had been advocating that the same laws be used against organised criminals for the past five years.

The gang targeted by 'Operation Slope' is based mainly in the south-east and linked to another Traveller gang in the Ballyfermot area of west Dublin. The Dublin gang is understood to have links to another gang that included dissident republicans, which had been carrying out similar raids in the Border area and inside Northern Ireland.

The gang based in the south-east is suspected of carrying out more than 20 late-night robberies over two years in which mechanical diggers were used to smash ATM machines from walls of banks and businesses, load them on to trailers and escape.

As part of the investigation, gardai examined bank accounts held by members of the gang who were all in receipt of welfare and unemployment benefits.

The accounts showed that sums of between €30,000 and €50,000 were going each month through an account of one female member based in Wexford, who was in receipt of social welfare payments.

The garda operation also uncovered what is understood to be a highly sophisticated and extensive money laundering operation between here and Britain. Money was being used to buy and trade horses, caravans, 4x4 vehicles and other equipment.

A large number of bank accounts were examined with help from the Criminal Assets Bureau. The overall operation was co-ordinated and directed by the head of the Garda's National Support Services, Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne.

Before he was sent to Waterford Det Supt Hayes led highly successful operations against organised gangs in Dublin and was present at major operations in which gangs were intercepted as robberies were taking place. He personally led the operation at Lusk in April 2005 in which two armed robbers were shot dead when they confronted members of the Emergency Response Unit.

Since moving to Waterford he has revamped garda operations against serious crime including prostitution in the south east.

The sending of the file via email to the DPP is also something of a breakthrough and should become an example for other major investigations.

Sunday Independent

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