A crime gang set up a sophisticated heroin drug distribution network using a team of street dealers rotated around the country when they become known to the gardaí in an area, a court has heard.
Det Sgt Robbie Brosnan of the Cork City Divisional Drugs Unit said the Lithuanian gang would send a dealer into an area where they distributed the drug until they became known to polic. He said at this point the gang would bring in a new dealer and would send the old dealer to another city where they are not known.
"This organised crime group would send people to different urban centres, north and south, across the island of Ireland to operate the sale of heroin until they become known in that location and they then rotate them on to another city or county," he said.
Det Sgt Brosnan was giving evidence in the case of Lithuanian, Ligitas Grigalaitis (26), of Dunclug Park, Ballymena, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, who pleaded guilty to two separate counts of possessing heroin for sale or supply at two different locations in Cork three years ago.
Grigalaitis pleadedguilty to possessing heroin for sale or supply at a wooded area near Dundanion House in Blackrock in Cork city and to possessing heroin for sale or supply at the Munster Agricultural Showgrounds, also in Blackrock, both on August 24th 2017.
Det Sgt Brosnan told Cork Circuit Criminal Court that members of the Cork City Divisional Drugs Unit identified a property on the Blackrock Road in the city where a group of Lithuanian nationals were believed to be involved in the sale or supply of heroin so they placed it under surveillance.
“On August 23rd 2017, gardaí observed the defendant leaving the house and going to an area of ground between the Monahan Road and the Marina where gardaí later established there was a jar containing 30 deals of heroin and they maintained surveillance on the jar,” he said.
Gardaí maintained surveillance on the jar the next day and saw Grigalaitis go to the jar, which they later found contained 80 deals of heroin worth €3,000, and when they stopped him a short distance away near the Munster Agricultural Showgrounds, they found he had seven deals of heroin on him.
Grigalaitis put up a brief struggle when gardai went to arrest him and during the struggle he spat out seven heroin deals that he had hidden in his mouth and when he was later interviewed following his arrest and he told gardai they were all for his own use, save for two or three he was giving to friends.
He initially denied any knowledge of the jar containing the larger number of heroin deals but he later admitted he may have touched it and he had since opted to plead guilty to the charges after initially deciding when the matter was at Cork District Court that he was contesting them, he said.
Grigalaitis had convictions for drug offences in Tralee, Galway and Belfast and he had been arrested on a bench warrant in Waterford and the fact that he had turned up at various locations around the country was in keeping with the modus operandi of the Lithuanian crime gang, he said.
Det Sgt Brosnan said that Grigalaitis had come to Ireland in 2016 and had lived at a variety of different locations since then but he agreed with defence barrister, Peter O' Flynn BL that Grigalaitis was simply "a foot soldier" in the drug dealing network and was not the mastermind behind it
He also accepted an assertion by Mr O’Flynn that Grigalaitis was a heroin addict himself and was distributing and selling the drug to other addicts in order to get money to buy his own supply or he was sometimes paid in heroin deals which he used to feed his habit..
“He was a heroin addict being used by others in this organisation - his motivation was to feed his habit rather than to make a profit,” said Mr O’Flynn as he pleaded for leniency, pointing out that his client had spared the state the cost and difficulty of a trial with his guilty pleas to both charges.
Judge Sean O Donnabhain said that while he fully accepted Det Sgt Brosnan's evidence about the modus operandi of the Lithuanian crime gang using foot soldiers to distribute their drugs around the country, he was concerned only with the Cork charges against Grigalaitis.
“This is a case where a man allowed himself to be used by a gang of others to supply drugs in various locations. I am concerned only with what he had in Blackrock. The evidence is he was a foot soldier for a group, rotating people around the country until they became identified and were moved on.
“This man was knowingly involved in the sale or supply of drugs in various locations all over the island - he took full advantage of the freedom of movement under the Treaty of Rome as he was entitled to do,” he said.
Judge O Donnabhain had been told the DPP had consented to the case being dealt with on a guilty plea at Cork District Court and it only came before him because Grigalaitis had initially opted to contest it but he found it surprising the DPP felt it was a suitable case for the lower court.
"I think it is extraordinary that the Director of Public Prosecutions felt it was a suitable case to be dealt with in the District Court. If we are going to validate open dealing, then it is a sad situation," observed Judge O Donnabhain.
He sentenced Grigalaitis to three years in jail but suspended the final 18 months on condition that he give an undertaking to leave the country upon completion of his 18 month jail term and agree not to return to Ireland for a period of five years.