A north Dublin-based crime gang which is heavily involved in organised prostitution and thefts, as well as internet and Covid-19 payment scams, was targeted by gardai in a major search operation yesterday.
Five male Romanian criminals aged in their 20s and 30s were being quizzed last night at various northside garda stations after detectives seized documentation, devices and €30,000 in cash during nine planned searches.
Properties including business units and residences in Malahide, Fairview and Blanchardstown were targeted by detectives from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB), assisted by Romanian-speaking gardai and officers seconded to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
The targeted gang is suspected of laundering €1.5m in 70 different back accounts and has been operational in Ireland for up to eight years, according to a senior source.
Detectives also identified at least 23 fraudulent Covid-19 payment claims, worth almost €100,000 in total, which have often been set up in false names.
Gardai also seized dozens of bottles of high-end booze - including expensive vodka, brandy and champagne - which they believe were either stolen or bought with the gang's ill-gotten gains.
The ringleader of the gang - a 28-year-old man who is already facing serious charges in relation to ATM frauds - was one of the five arrested and he was being questioned under anti-gangland legislation along with another of his associates.
Two others were being quizzed for money laundering and another for obstructing officers during the searches.
"The 28-year-old has been based here since at least 2013 and he is a big target for gardai - he is being questioned about directing a criminal organisation," a senior source said last night.
A Malahide-based woman, suspected of being a "key gang member", was not arrested in this phase of the GNECB probe but senior sources said she is suspected of operating a number of brothels in the capital's northside in recent years.
"Investigations have established that cash ranging from large five-figure sums to small sums such as €200 have been lodged into the dozens of accounts used to launder the money," a senior source said.
"The modus operandi of this criminal network was to set up bogus companies in an attempt to evade suspicion on the large amount of transactions that were going through the accounts of the fake companies.
"Five of the locations searched yesterday in north Dublin were business units, while the other four were homes of suspected gang members.
"What is unusual about this crew compared to other Romanian gangs operating here is that they are committing the crimes here, not just using our banks for money laundering.
"Apart from organised prostitution racket, this is a gang heavily involved in thefts - everything from basic shoplifting and pickpocketing to organised nationwide robberies of commercial businesses.
"Investigations have established that around one-third of their income has also come from internet scams, with the majority of their victims being Irish people."
Gardai yesterday announced details of the GNECB's latest crackdown on organised fraud gangs operating in the capital.
"Gardai identified a number of bogus companies established by a criminal organisation and a large number of bank accounts set up in both false names and money mules," a spokeswoman said.
"Gardai have established that about €1.5m was laundered through these accounts.
"This money is the proceeds of various cyber-enabled frauds like 'smishing' and 'vishing', organised prostitution and thefts.
"Documentation pertaining to these companies and these bank accounts, along with identifications, cash and phones, were seized and are being examined."
The cyber scams the gang is involved in involve extracting money from victims' payment cards by sending bogus text messages or making deception-based phone calls to people - crimes which have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gardai have also advised the public to be vigilant about the activities of gangs like the mob busted yesterday.
"Gardai continue to advise people to always protect their data, passwords, user names and pin numbers when doing any financial transactions," a spokeswoman said.