Three men caught with a submachine gun and a sawn-off shotgun in Co Offaly earlier this year were “not professional hitmen”, a judge said when he sentenced them on Monday.
Judge Keenan Johnson told Mullingar Circuit Court that though the machine gun was of poor quality and cartridges found in the men’s car were not suitable for the shotgun, the discharge of a firearm, even as a threat, had the capacity to go fatally wrong.
Ildomar Cabrar Da Silva (29), whose address could not be ascertained by the gardaí, had pleaded guilty to possession of the firearms, along with 17 rounds of ammunition for the submachine gun, and four shotgun cartridges, at River Street, Clara, on May 27th.
Jefferson Dos Santos (35) with an address at Inny Court, Ballymahon, Co Longford, and Hugo Henrique Rodrigues (23) of the same address, had pleaded guilty to similar charges.
All three also admitted breaches of the Covid-19 restrictions on travel.
A previous court hearing had been told the three Brazilians were on their way to Tullamore to shoot at a house and when he was finalising the sentence, the judge said the discovery of a Google Maps search for an address on Mr Da Silva's phone was an aggravating factor.
He said Mr Da Silva was the most culpable of the three and because he had paid for the fuel for the car he was the “primary organiser of the mission”.
He had been the subject of a deportation order since July 2019.
The men were all wearing plastic gloves when they were stopped in Clara at 12.25am on May 27th and after the arrests Mr Rodrigues told gardaí they intended to threaten a third party by “firing at their house” but denied they were on a “murder mission”.
Analysis by a ballistics specialist showed that the submachine gun was rusty and would jam after each shot.
The judge said the men were out of their depth because they had got lost twice while on their way to their target.
“It therefore seems clear that none of the accused were professional hitmen or seasoned criminals,” he said.
The judge said Mr Dos Santos had a flight booked home to Brazil the day after his arrest.
Mr Dos Santos had written a letter of apology and the court also had a letter from his wife which referred to their two children and the defendant’s elderly father in Brazil.
Mr Rodrigues was the driver of the car and the judge said he was a participant in the undertaking, not the organiser, but he did know about it at least a week in advance.
He had made admissions that helped gardaí significantly and as a result he was under protection in prison.
The judge said he was satisfied as the youngest of the three, Mr Rodrigues’s lack of maturity meant he was easily led into offending and it was out of character for him.
The judge said this type of enterprise was “regrettably becoming far too prevalent” and had the capacity “to undermine the foundations of our civilised society”.
Mr Da Silva, the only one of the three men to have previous convictions, was sentenced to eight years in prison, Mr Dos Santos was sentenced to seven years and Mr Rodrigues to six. All three had the final three years of their sentences suspended.
The trio have been in custody since their arrest and their sentences were backdated to May 26th. They also entered into 10-year peace bonds and were ordered to return to Brazil within 14 days of their release.