Army veteran jailed after holding drugs to help pay off son’s debt

Man (60) who is undergoing cancer treatment caught with cocaine worth €70,000

An Army veteran who told gardaí he was holding €70,000 of cocaine to help pay off his son’s drug debt has been jailed for 12 months.

John McElroy (60) was caught with a 1.1kg block of cocaine worth more than €70,000 under the driver seat of his car after he was pulled over by gardaí in Cabra, Dublin on January 25th, last year.

McElroy, with an address at Oakwood Park, Finglas, Dublin, told gardaí he had only accepted the package an hour earlier and that he was holding it in order to pay €200 off his son's €50,000 drug debt.

He pleaded guilty to one count of possessing cocaine for sale or supply at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.


Passing sentencing on Friday, Judge Melanie Greally said McElroy made "a very ill-advised decision" to courier the drugs out of "a mixture of fear and desperation".

The judge noted McElroy was assessed as being at a low risk of reoffending. She said he had expressed remorse for his actions and a realisation of “the harm inflicted as a result of participation in the drug business”.

McElroy is undergoing treatment for a cancer diagnosis and his son has a very serious condition requiring surgery which has been “a source of ongoing worry for the family”, the court heard.

The judge sentenced him to 3½ years’ imprisonment, but suspended the final 2½ years on strict conditions.

At a previous sentencing hearing, the judge said the message that had to be transmitted when dealing with offences such as this was that “engaging with persons involved in the drug distribution network out of fear is not the answer”.

She said that if it was perceived as being the answer “then the battle is lost and we might as well all shut up shop”.

Garda Marguerite Reilly told the court that gardaí pulled over McElroy's car as he was driving through Dublin after they were given a tip-off about the cocaine. They discovered an Aldi bag under the driver seat containing the drugs, which had a street value of €70,840.

When questioned, McElroy said he did not know what was in the package, but he assumed it was something “bad”. He said his son had run up a drug debt and he was trying to help him out.

McElroy has one minor conviction for holding a mobile phone while driving. Garda Reilly told the court that gardaí did not believe McElroy was involved in the drugs scene.

“Under no circumstances is it the belief of myself or any Garda colleagues that he is living off the proceeds of drugs,” she said. “It was a one-off incident that he was holding these drugs to pay off the drug debt for his son.”

The judge said she had one issue with this scenario, noting McElroy was being paid just €200 to pay off a €50,000 debt. “Either the enterprise was not going to be a one-off or else it was going to make virtually no impact on the debt,” the judge said.

Dominic McGinn SC, defending, submitted this was a measure of how naive McElroy was. He said this was “one of those wholly exceptional circumstances” in which someone was before the court “because of misplaced loyalty to his family”.

The court heard McElroy was in the Army between 1976 and 1991 and carried out two tours of Lebanon. He was diagnosed with cancer five years ago and is on disability benefit. He has seven children from two marriages.