A former "mid-tier" Kinahan Cartel member who never paid tax and was claiming State benefits while laundering tens of thousands of euro in crime cash was given a fully suspended sentence by the Special Criminal Court on Monday .
Sean Ruth of Stradbrook, Stradbally Road, Portlaoise, Co Laois, had pleaded guilty to two crime cash laundering offences. The three-judge court was previously told that the 32-year-old has paid the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) over €20,000 and that his parents will assist him in discharging a remaining €9,900.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt on Monday sentenced Ruth to four years and six months for both offences before suspending both for six years, ordering that the €9,900 be paid back inside 12 months
Ruth spoke only to acknowledge that he would be bound to the peace for those years.
“Paying your taxes is part of being a good citizen, too,” said the judge, who added that Ruth should not “re-take his previous wrong steps”.
Mr Justice Hunt said a headline sentence of six years on both charges was appropriate but gave Ruth 25 per cent off in mitigation, largely due to his plea of guilty.
The judge said the amount of money involved was also towards the lower end of the spectrum but noted that Ruth had been “deeply involved” in an active criminal organisation in the past.
Lawyers for Ruth previously told the non-jury court that he has since reformed, has “taken his medicine” and would not benefit from going back to prison.
“It is supposed to be an eye-opener,” said Mr Justice Hunt, who acknowledged that Ruth had positive testimonies, had continued in education and had not come to the attention of gardaí in the two years since his release for a separate offence.
During March’s sentence hearing, the court heard that Ruth allowed his bank accounts to be used for money laundering but has disassociated himself from criminal activity since his 2019 release from prison on a firearms conviction.
Ruth was previously jailed for three years for possession of a .38 Special Calibre “Rossi” revolver and 9mm calibre round of ammunition after he was linked through DNA evidence to the firearm, which was found inside a blood-stained plastic bag.
At Ruth's sentence hearing in March for the cash offences, Detective Garda Paul Kane told prosecuting counsel Fiona Murphy SC that on January 24th, 2017, on foot of a warrant targeting organised crime, gardaí went to a business premises in Greenogue, Rathcoole, Dublin 24.
Det Gda Kane said gardai intercepted Jonathan Harding and James Walsh leaving the commercial premises at the business park and a search warrant was executed. Gardai seized 15 firearms, including a Kalashnikov, a submachine gun, and a semi-automatic weapon that were found alongside a device to manufacture vehicle registrations, while a stolen forklift and a mobile tracking device were also found.
It was established that DNA matching Ruth’s was found at various locations on the premises and he was arrested on May 17th, 2017, on suspicion of enhancing the ability of a criminal organisation to commit a serious offence.
According to Det Gda Kane, confidential information was then received by the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB) on May 30th 2017, which led investigators to a bank account in Ruth's name at St Canice's Credit Union, Kilkenny. This raised suspicions in relation to money laundering offences, he added.
Ms Murphy said that the Revenue status of the accused man revealed that he did not pay tax, had never worked as a PAYE employee and claimed over €8,000 in back-to-work allowances. He had also allowed his bank accounts to be used to launder the proceeds of crime.
Gardai learned that Ruth had two active AIB accounts in 2016. He had €18,045 in one bank account and €32,041.90 in a second bank account, a total of €50,086. The money was also "recycled" from one bank account to another and lodged in cheques and cash. €34,513 of the money came from "an unknown source", said the detective.
CAB had sent him a tax assessment for €34,000 and seized €19,905 from his Credit Union account. He has an outstanding tax liability of €9,900, the court heard.
Ms Murphy told the court that Ruth was a “mid-tier member of a criminal gang” and the maximum sentence for the money laundering offence is 14 years in prison.
The court heard that Ruth has 28 previous convictions which include unauthorised possession of firearm ammunition and two charges of unlawful use of a mobile phone in prison.
Under crossexamination, Det Gda Kane agreed with Mr John Fitzgerald SC, defending, that the prosecution case against Ruth is that he handled the proceeds of crime by other people and knew his bank account was being used in this manner. The accused man’s involvement in that criminal organisation was “mid-level”, he said.
Mr Fitzgerald said that while the overall figure of €35,172 was undeclared, it was accepted that the majority of Ruth’s income came from non-criminal and legitimate sources, which included a bouncing castle business, a power washing company and selling horses.
Counsel said these money laundering offences predate Ruth’s three-year sentence for possession of a firearm and Ruth has disassociated himself from any criminal organisation since his release from prison in September 2019. Det Gda Kane agreed with Mr Fitzgerald that Ruth comes from a respectable background and has not come to garda attention since his release from prison.
In mitigation, Mr Fitzgerald said his client left home at a young age, “took the wrong road” and got involved with “the wrong associates”. “An association made in what was initially a legitimate business buying and selling cars and horses led him to illegitimate activities,” he said.
Counsel said prison life has been an “eye opener” for Ruth and “happily it appears to have achieved the intended effect”.
Mr Fitzgerald submitted to the court that the accused has gone through a “period of reform”, has sought to rebuild his life and rehabilitate himself into society by returning to education to study sports recreation and exercise.
Counsel handed into the court a number of testimonials including one from a course coordinator from Ormonde College of Further Education in Kilkenny, who said Ruth has a great interest in his course and was always willing to help and support his classmates.
Ruth has reflected on his activities, "taken his medicine" and learned his lesson, said Mr Fitzgerald. It was regrettable that the accused could not have put everything behind him in 2019 and moved on with his life but the material wasn't available to the Director of Public Prosecutions at the time, said counsel.
Mr Fitzgerald asked the judges to consider whether it was “a necessary step” to return Ruth to prison and said it would not benefit him. “There is very concrete evidence that he has learnt his lesson in prison and benefited from it,” he added.
Ruth had pleaded guilty to concealing or disguising the true nature or source of money credited to Allied Irish Bank account, in the name of Sean Ruth, knowing or believing or being reckless as to whether the property was the proceeds of criminal conduct, on various dates within the State between January 1st, 2016 and December 31st, 2016, both dates inclusive.
He also admitted converting, transferring, handling, acquiring, possessing or using money credited to Allied Irish Bank account, in the name of Sean Ruth, knowing or believing or being reckless as to whether the property was the proceeds of criminal conduct, on various dates within the State between on the same occasion.
He was originally charged before the three-judge court with eight offences under Section 7 of the Criminal Justice Money Laundering & Terrorist Financing Act 2010. The offences all occurred within the State between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016, both dates inclusive.
Last December, "trusted gang adherent" Jonathan Harding (48), of Kerdiff Avenue, Naas, Co Kildare, who laundered over €324K for the Kinahan criminal organisation was jailed for five years by the Special Criminal Court. Harding was caught after he was spotted by gardaí leaving an arsenal of firearms and ammunition that could "arm a small country".
Harding and James Walsh (36), with a last address at Neilstown Drive, Clondalkin, Dublin 22, were previously sentenced to 10 years and nine years imprisonment respectively, with the final year of each sentence suspended, having both pleaded guilty to the possession of nine revolvers, four pistols, a submachine gun, an assault rifle and various ammunition magazines at the Greenogue Unit.