Belfast Telegraph

Four criminal gang members sentenced after major PSNI drugs and money laundering investigation

Officers seized £585,000 during the investigation

Four members of an organised criminal gang operating in Northern Ireland have been given suspended prison sentences after a major drugs and money laundering investigation.

The men are from the Armagh and Omagh areas. A woman from the Armagh area has also been given a conditional discharge.

The investigation, led by the PSNI’s Organised Crime Unit in 2016, resulted in around £585,000 in cash being taken out of the hands of criminals.

The four men and one woman sentenced – Eugene Thomas, Joseph Despard, Darren Donnelly Conor Toal- received suspended sentences ranging from nine months to two-and-a-half years. Mary Thomas was given a conditional discharge for 12 months.

On July 13 2016 a Volkswagen Golf was spotted acting suspiciously beside a Ford Transit van in the Culdee Drive area of Armagh. The driver of the Volkswagen, 33-year-old Eugene Thomas, was seen passing a package to the driver of the Ford Transit, 40-year-old Joseph Despard from the Salters Grange Road area of Armagh.

A short time later, officers attempted to stop the red Ford Transit van on Killylea Road in Armagh, however, the van tried to make off. A police vehicle was forced to bring the van to a halt causing damage to both vehicles. The Transit van was searched and a bag in the front passenger footwell was found with £10,000 in cash in it. Mr Despard was subsequently arrested on suspicion of possession of criminal property.

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Watches seized by the PSNI in a drugs and money laundering investigation. Credit: PSNI

Mr Thomas was arrested shortly afterwards, nearby, and during a follow-up search at his home address in the Callan Crescent area of Armagh officers found cash - £93,980 and 72,480 euros - concealed in the living room of the property. Three high-end watches worth approximately £75,795 were also seized from the property.

Mary Thomas, aged 57, who lived with her son Eugene at Callan Crescent, was also arrested for possession of criminal property.

Mr Despard, Mr Thomas and his mother, Mary Thomas were subsequently charged with possession of criminal property, concealing criminal property and transferring criminal property in respect of the cash and watches seized.

The next month, on August 17, police saw a lorry and an Audi car acting suspiciously in the Hanslough Road area of Armagh. A short time later they stopped the lorry – driven by 33-year-old Darren Donnelly - on the Portadown Road and carried out a search, which turned up three bags of money in the cab. The bags contained £214,216  and €224,760.  Mr Donnelly was arrested and subsequently charged with possession of criminal property.

Police carried out a further search at the home of 33-year-old Conor Toal in the Oakbridge area of Armagh. During the search police seized £4,690 in cash along with four high-value watches worth approximately £20,810. Mr Toal was arrested and charged with possession of criminal property.

Detective Inspector Tom McClure said: “The PSNI is committed to making Northern Ireland a hostile environment for those in our community who are involved in serious drug criminality and money laundering.

“We will seek to identify them, arrest them and place them before the courts in order to keep communities safe.

“There will be no hiding place for them."

  • Mr Thomas pleaded guilty to the possession of criminal property and transferring criminal property. This related to £103,980 and €72,480 seized on July 13 2016, and the seizure of three high end watches valued at £75,795. He received 18 months imprisonment suspended for 3 years.
  • Mr Despard pleaded guilty to possessing criminal property, namely £10,010 and possessing counterfeit currency. The counterfeit currency related to the seizure of 91 £1 coins during a search of his home address in Salters Grange Road, Armagh. He received nine months imprisonment, suspended for 2 years.
  • Mr Toal pleaded guilty to possessing criminal property and transferring criminal property. This was in relation to £79,450 in cash seized during a search at Callan Crescent in Armagh on 13th July 2016 and the £214,216 and €224,760 seized from the lorry on 17th August 2016. He also pleaded guilty to possession of £4,690 cash and four high-end watches valued at £20,810 found at his home address in Oakbridge, Armagh. He received 2.5 years imprisonment, suspended for 3 years.
  • Mr Donnelly pleaded guilty to possessing criminal property. This was in relation to the seizure of £214,216 and €224,760 from his lorry on August 17 2016. He received 12 months imprisonment, suspended for two years.
  • Mary Thomas pleaded guilty to concealing criminal property, namely two Rolex watches valued at £74600 that were seized during a search on 13 July at Callan Crescent. She received a conditional discharge for 12 months.
  • Eugene Thomas, Joseph Despard, Conor Toal, and Mary Thomas also accepted making a series of part-payments towards the purchase of high value Rolex watches by another person at a jewellery store in Northern Ireland.

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