Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

£1.36m - How Ulster's criminal Mr Bigs are being made to pay<>Ulster's criminal Mr Bigs

INTERNATIONAL drugs dealer James McCullough revelled in the trappings of wealth. The Newtownabbey man, known to police as the 'Australian Connection' lived the high life and drove a £26,000 Mercedes. But the prestige car which he was suspected of gaining through a drug smuggling operation, was among £101,000 worth of assets confiscated after McCullough's conviction.

INTERNATIONAL drugs dealer James McCullough revelled in the trappings of wealth. The Newtownabbey man, known to police as the 'Australian Connection' lived the high life and drove a £26,000 Mercedes. But the prestige car which he was suspected of gaining through a drug smuggling operation, was among £101,000 worth of assets confiscated after McCullough's conviction.

And he is just one of 54 Ulster criminals who have had assets worth in total £1.36m seized by the police. Around 30 of these criminals are still being pursued for a further £850,000.

The Belfast Telegraph today names 15 of those who were forced to hand back cash, cars and houses bought from proceeds of drug dealing, theft or fraud.

The revelation comes as the Government's Organised Crime Task Force prepares to target 20 of the province's Mr Bigs running drugs, smuggling and other rackets.

The assets have been seized over a 10-year period with most being targeted under the Proceeds of Crime legislation which came into effect in August 1996.

As things stand, it is up to the defendant to prove that the cash, the house or the car was obtained through legitimate means.

The key weakness is that assets can only be seized by police after conviction but a new confiscation agency will have the powers to ask a civil court to seize assets of suspected criminals who have not been convicted.

The new agency, which is largely modelled on the Republic's highly successful Criminal Assets Bureau, will also have the power to hit criminals with hefty tax bills on the proceeds of their illegal activities.

The RUC's Economic Crime Bureau, headed by Detective Superintendent David Thompson, today warned criminals they could lose hundreds of thousands of pounds of assets if convicted.

He said: "We look at the overall lifestyle of someone. We can go back six years from when proceedings have been instigated.

"That total amount is deemed to be his proceeds from his criminal activities. The onus is on the criminal to prove to the contrary.

"We look at any property the person owns or has owned, the holidays they have taken, bank accounts and any vehicles used over the past six years.

"Crime will not pay because we will make every effort to take away ill-gotten gains."

His team of financial investigators trawl through bank, building society and any other records of a financial nature a convicted criminal may have.

Police go into court for a Production Order to serve on banks, building societies and other financial institutions to ask for production of a suspect's records.

Fifteen who were brought to book 1. Drug dealer James Conor McCullough. The 35-year-old from Ballygore Road in Newtownabbey, known as the Australian Connection, had £101,148 confiscated for an international drug smuggling racket in 1996.

2. Fraudster Henry Wilson Gordon, of Lough in Coleraine, had assets worth £86,156 taken from him in 1998. The crooked accountant conned old ladies out of their life savings when he stole more then £750,000 from seven clients.

3. Fraudster Robert Francis Russell, Orchardville Crescent in Belfast, had £57,000 seized for a string of forgery and fraud offences last January. He masterminded Ulster's biggest benefits scam when he fleeced his employer, the Social Security Agency, out of a staggering £250,000.

4. Leonard Bell (32), of Woodford Park East in Newtownabbey, had assets totalling £76,580 seized. The cowboy builder conned elderly victims into parting with thousands of pounds to pay for unnecessary roof repairs.

5.Drugs baron Edward Kearney (34) had £51,850 trawled back by police last November. Kearney, from Whitewell Road in north Belfast, was sentenced to four years jail in June for possession of five kilos of cannabis resin at his home. The haul had a street value of some £50,000.

6. Drugs trafficker Raymond Austin, from Banbridge, had £51,604 seized in November 1999. Austin was arrested after £1m worth of Ecstasy tablets were discovered when he crashed into a police roadblock in June 1998.

7. Fraudster David Heatley (59), from Merville Garden Village in Newtownabbey, lost £49,042 through a confiscation order in May 2000. The former director of Abbey Print Services in Newtownards provided Department of Finance civil servant Gerard Lennon with false invoices for a £315,000 fraud. 8. Fraudster Sonia Templeton had £29,106 seized in March 2000. The 37-year-old of Lille Park in Belfast had been convicted earlier of conspiracy to defraud and using a false instrument.

9. Laura Shuttleworth, whose address was given as Manchester, (32) was ordered to pay back £27,130 in fraud and theft profits in February 1997.

10. Fraudster Desmond Maxwell Bell (58), of Cranley Hill in Bangor, was told to pay back £26,750 in profits in May 2000. The former director of Abbey Print Services in Newtownabbey was implicated in a fraud with David Heatley and civil servant Gerard Lennon which involved at least £315,000.

11. Raymond McKenna (30), from Millvale Mews in Bessbrook, lost £20,595 in April 1999. He was imprisoned for his part in handling a haul of jewellery and cash stolen by armed criminals.

12. Patrick McGuigan, whose last known address was in Point Road in Limavady, had £17,434 seized in February 1999. He was imprisoned for four years for fraud and attempted possession of a Class A drug.

13. Fraudster Raymond Crawford (27), of Maguiresbridge in Co Fermanagh, told to pay back £16,000 in August 1999. He was handed a suspended prison sentence for aiding and abetting the fraudulent disposal of property.

14. Conor Bradley, of Forglen Road in Dungiven, had assets worth £16,000 seized in February 1999 after being convicted of fraud and deception.

15. Drug dealer John Murtagh, from Rocks Chapel Road in Cross gar, had £10,500 confiscated in June 1999. He was convicted for possessing a haul of cannabis with intent to supply.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz