A man who used his care worker partner to transport hundreds of thousands of euro in cash for an international criminal organisation has been jailed for six years.
Thomas Rooney (52) of Betaghstown, Bettystown, Co Meath, was on Friday described by Mr Justice Tony Hunt at the three-judge, non-jury court as a “mid-to-high level member of a serious international criminal organisation”. He said Rooney was trusted by the gang to transport large sums of cash including a Nike sports bag that contained €289,770.
In May of last year, Rooney’s then partner Catherine Dawson (45), also of Betaghstown and with whom he has two children, was given a fully suspended sentence by the Special Criminal Court for her role in moving the gang’s money. Dawson admitted to possession of the contents of the Nike bag which gardaí found in her car. When gardaí asked Rooney if he used Dawson to move the money because her job as a carer meant she was less likely to be stopped during the pandemic lockdown, he replied: “Maybe I’m a coward and wouldn’t do it myself.”
He also told gardaí that he was to be paid €1,200 for his part in moving the cash and was in fear for his life when he committed the crime.
Passing sentence on Friday, Mr Justice Hunt noted that the maximum sentence for Rooney would be one of 14 years. He said he placed his offending at the lower end of the highest range for this type of offence and set a pre-mitigation sentence of 10 years. Having considered Rooney’s early guilty plea, co-operation with gardaí and lack of relevant previous convictions, he reduced the sentence to seven years and removed another year to take into account Rooney’s poor health.
The six-year sentence is backdated to December 6th, 2021, when Rooney first went into custody. Mr Justice Hunt also ordered that the money seized by gardaí during the operation should be forfeited to the State. Shane Costelloe SC for the Director of Public Prosecutions said a Mercedes that was used by Rooney should also be forfeit. John Fitzgerald SC, for Rooney, said the forfeiture of the Mercedes is being contested. The court will hear arguments from both sides on January 31st.
Rooney pleaded guilty last year to offences under section 7 of the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing) Act 2010. He was found in possession of €289,770 and £65,025 in crime cash in a blue Nike holdall at Spar car park, Donore Road, Drogheda, on May 11th, 2020. Rooney also pleaded guilty to possessing €254,840 in a black holdall bag at Donore Road and to possessing €7,650 at North Road, Drogheda, on the same date. A subsequent search of his home uncovered an encrypted Aquarius phone along with fake designer bags, luxury watches and two signal blockers.
Last July, a “trusted, high level” member of the same gang caught with more than €350,000 of the cash was jailed for seven years.
Jason Reed (40) of Maelduin, Dunshaughlin, Co Meath, pleaded guilty to possession of the cash in the blue Nike bag on the same date and location but also pleaded guilty to possessing crime cash at his home address after gardaí found €32,330 and £441 there, despite Reed having no source of income.
Det Sgt Adrian Mulligan of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau told Garret Baker, prosecuting, that Reed had been placed under Garda surveillance and was the main focus of their operation on May 11th, 2020.
Det Sgt Mulligan said the surveillance of Reed began when he left his Dunshaughlin home in a Volkswagen Passat on May 11th and was seen pulling into the car park on the Donore Road at 5.55pm. Det Sgt Mulligan said Reed was seen getting out of his car and hugging and chatting to Rooney who was driving a black Mercedes.
The witness told counsel that Reed returned to his car and then threw an envelope into the open window of the driver’s side of the Mercedes. Reed was then seen taking out a blue holdall and placing this into a third car – a Hyundai driven by Dawson. Dawson was stopped by Det Garda Mulligan who discovered both bags of cash in the car.
Det Garda Mulligan said that the vehicles driven by Reed and Rooney were also approached by gardaí. When Det Garda Mary Moore approached Rooney, she observed him counting some of the €7,650 from the envelope on his lap.
A search warrant was executed on Rooney’s home and an encrypted Aquarius phone was found, along with six fake designer bags valued at €5,450, €1,970 in cash, 10 watches valued at €9,200 and two signal blockers.
Also found in the home was a holiday receipt for Orlando, Florida, for July 2020, worth €8,485.
Det Garda Mulligan told Mr Baker that Rooney made admissions over a series of interviews and maintained that he had been approached “to move money from A to B”. Rooney told gardaí that Covid-19 had put his chauffeur business “down the drain” and that it was “stupid” to get his partner involved, though he told gardaí she “had nothing to do with it”.
Rooney told gardaí he was to get €1,200 for moving the money and that he was in fear of his life. Det Garda Mulligan said that it was their belief that Dawson’s company car would make it easier for her not to be stopped during lockdown.
Rooney’s barrister John D Fitzgerald SC handed medical reports into the court describing Rooney’s pulmonary problems. Mr Fitzgerald said that Rooney had a 30-year work history, was a father-of-four children – two of which he had with Dawson – and that his business “ground to a halt” in March 2020 due to Covid-19.
Counsel said there was a “very significant disparity” between the amount of money Rooney was to actually receive and the money he was moving. Mr Fitzgerald said Rooney engaged with gardaí and that he was of assistance to their investigation. Counsel said that Rooney came from a good background and that he had a good family history.