Two Galway brothers have been jailed for nine years for membership of a criminal organisation, marking the first sentence under new anti-gang legislation.
Judge Martin Nolan praised the work of the Garda investigation, known as Operation Foolscap, which was headed by Detective Inspector Gerard Roche. It resulted in the arrest of Eddie and Michael O’Loughlin and 10 of their associates.
“They are to be congratulated for their work which would have been time consuming and boring and which would have taken up a lot of man hours,” the judge said before he commented that the gardai had also “operated within the parameters of the law”.
The O’Loughlin brothers were originally charged with organising a criminal organisation but entered a guilty plea to the lesser charge of membership after two weeks at trial. They faced a maximum of 15 years in prison under the 2009 Criminal Justice (Amendment ) Act.
Det Insp Roche later agreed with Martin Giblin SC, defending Eddie, that his client was a “mid-range criminal” but added that he was not at the upper end because the garda operation put an end to his criminal activity.
“If he had continued he would have been one of the most dangerous individuals in the Western Region which is why the operation was put in place to stop him,” the inspector said.
Michael (32 ) of Rahylin Glebe, Ballybane and Eddie (28 ) of Rockfield Park, Rahoon both pleaded guilty to participating in the activities of a criminal organisation in the Galway area between February 10 and June 1, 2010.
Det Insp Roche told Dominic McGinn SC (with Shane Costelloe BL ), prosecuting, that gardai set up an operation to target organised criminal activity in Galway city in September 2009. He said there was about 13 to 15 people involved in this particular gang with the O’Loughlins.
After obtaining warrants under new legislation audio devices were placed inside a Toyota Avensis used by Eddie O’Loughlin and a Ford Mondeo used by Michael O’Loughlin.
A surveillance team was also set up so gardai would know who was in each car at all times and be able to identify the voices in the conversations that were later recorded.
Det Insp Roche told Judge Nolan that gardai successfully recorded over 110 days of conversations relating to the planned criminal activities of the group.
Gardai were then able to put a stop to four burglaries planned by the O’Loughlins and three separate caches of drugs were seized. All of these offences led to the arrests and convictions of the brothers’ accomplices.
Gardai went to the suspected targets of the burglaries and advised them not to have cash on their premises and to take appropriate steps to protect themselves.
Gardai also heard the O’Loughlins gave “shopping lists” to their associates for some of the burglaries which included, bleach to get rid of DNA traces, expandable foam, lubricating oil and sports bags.
The men were advised by the brothers not to buy all the items in the one shop and not to store them together to avoid arousing suspicion.
Det Insp Roche said after the third offence was foiled by gardai, the O’Loughlins started to get paranoid because “everything they seemed to be doing seemed to be going wrong”.
A burglary of a local hair saloon, which had been discussed and planned for weeks, resulted in the gang stealing €200 from the shop when they expected to find €10,000. The staff had already been tipped off by the gardai.
Both men were arrested in June 2010 after the gardai successfully obtained 15 warrants to search their homes and those of their accomplices. The searches led to 12 arrests.
The brothers made no admissions during the subsequent garda interviews.
Eddie McLoughlin, a father of two, has 48 previous convictions which include criminal damage and road traffic offences, while Michael, also a father of two, has 50 previous convictions including assault, possession of drugs, theft and burglary.
Det Insp Roche agreed with Mr Giblin that Eddie O’Loughlin did not have “a major stash of assets” apart from an orchard in Bulgaria along with his brother.
He agreed with Conall MacCarthy BL, defending Michael, that he did have a difficult upbringing and a violent father.
He also accepted that his client used cocaine but refused to accept that he was an addict.
Judge Nolan said the gardai knew everything the O’Loughlins were doing and the brothers “were right to be paranoid”.
“I am driven to conclude that they were involved at a leadership level. The activities of the gang were reasonably well organised and they gave the directions and were the intelligence behind it,” the judge said.
He said the O’Loughlins had been involved in “serious crime” and in an offence such as this, involving criminals coming together in a gang “there is a much greater threat to society”.
Judge Nolan also noted that the men were never directly involved in the crimes detected by the gardai during the surveillance operation and said they were “intelligent enough” to put their associates at the forefront.
Put their associates at the forefront
He jailed them both for nine years and forfeited the Ford Mondeo and Toyota Avensis to the State as he said he was satisfied they were used as “tools in this criminal enterprise”.
Det Insp Roche outlined the seven offences which gardai heard the O’Loughlin brothers and their associates discussing in the 110 days of surveillance.
The first involved the burglary of a man’s home in which Eddie O’Loughlin was observed “scouting” the general area. One man was later arrested and charged with the break-in.
The second was the seizure of €800 worth of cannabis herb, in which the brothers were heard arranging for the delivery of the drugs.
The third was the seizure of a consignment of cocaine worth €8,614 and after which the gardai heard the men becoming paranoid about why their crimes were not going to plan.
The gang’s second burglary target was the home of a man whom they believed was the manager of a car wash business. They had watched the daily activities of the man and concluded that he would have a large amount of cash in his home.
The staff at the car wash business were later contacted by crime prevention officers and warned they were a suspected target.
The gang also planned to get €10,000 from the burglary of a local hair salon but again gardai were aware of their intention and were able to warn the staff to ensure no large amounts of cash were left on the premises.
A fourth burglary did not go to plan as the fire alarm was set off when the gang were trying to cut open the company’s safe with an angle grinder. The brothers were later heard discussing this in one of the vehicles.
The final drug seizure was 2.5 kilogrammes of cannabis pollen, worth an estimated €15,270 and intended for Michael O’Loughlin.