Church warden and accomplice caged after £6,000 blackmail plot against local businessman
A Church of Ireland warden was one of two Co Antrim men sentenced to five years each after admitting blackmailing a businessman for £6,000.
William Ian Robinson (38) and co-accused David Kealey (35) targeted a number of people over several months.
Victims were told they were under threat from the UVF for involvement in drugs.
One of the named victims was contacted directly and told he'd have to pay £6,000 or he and family members would be attacked.
Robinson had earlier admitted two counts of attempted intimidation, two of blackmail, one of forcing a person to leave their home as a result of intimidation and ringing a bomb threat to the Samaritans.
Kealey, formerly of Burnside Park in Coleraine, had admitted two counts of blackmail, two of attempted intimidation, and a further two counts of helping his co-accused.
The offences occurred between November 2013 and January 2014.
Robinson, formerly of Beechwood Drive in Ballymoney, showed no emotion as the court heard he had been a church warden between 2005 and 2007. Rev Louise Crawford-McCafferty had previously told the court Robinson was well-liked in the role.
She also said she had been "completely bowled over" after hearing of his role in the blackmail case but continues to visit him in prison.
Passing sentence at Antrim Crown Court, Judge Desmond Marrinan said: "I find it difficult to understand how he came to this pass.
"It's extremely difficult to understand how someone who appears to have been hard-working became involved in matters of this kind."
Judge Marrinan said he believed the only "obvious reason" Robinson became involved in such a "miserable type of offence" was because he started to take drugs.
The judge said Kealey had been motivated by greed to pay for drugs.
He said both Kealey and Robinson had shown "absolutely no thought at the time of the damage caused" to their victims.
Kealey's partner, mother-of-three Theresa Karina Letters, was also arrested at the scene. She admitted agreeing to act as a getaway driver in the plot.
She was sentenced to 18 months suspended for three years.
Passing sentence, Judge Marrinan told the 37-year-old from Castle Place in Coleraine she was being spared a prison sentence because of her children.
Judge Marrinan said the impact on victims of blackmail and intimidation is usually serious.
He continued: "One of those men has suffered particularly badly. More than 15 months on from these events, he is still suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. That is a significantly debilitating condition."
The court was told the offences came to light when one of the victims contacted police.
Judge Marrinan congratulated him on his courage said a significant factor in the case was the fact that it had been wrongly alleged to the victims that the UVF were involved in the blackmail plot.
"References were made on one occasion that a man had actually been shot in the leg by the UVF, not connected to this case, but used to further underline the threats in this case," he continued. "These suggestions were entirely made up. A reference to a paramilitary organisation can only be intent to add considerable fear engendered in various victims."