Irish bitcoin trader and film technician jailed for running global 'Dark Net' drug operation
A bitcoin trader and a film technician have been jailed for running an online global operation described as "a new era in drug dealing".
Neil Mannion (34) and Richard O'Connor (34) were charged with possessing drugs worth €143,000 following a garda raid on a business premises in south Dublin in October 2014.
Detective Sergeant Brian Roberts compared the operation of selling drugs on the "dark net" to eBay or Amazon, saying: "it's a new phenomenon that's growing and ultimately the modern era of drug dealing".
Mannion, of Mount Drummond Avenue, Harold's Cross, Dublin and O'Connor, of Clonskeagh Road, Clonskeagh, Dublin both pleaded guilty to possession of LSD, amphetamine and cannabis resin with intent to sell or supply at Bank House Business Centre, South Circular Road on November 5 2014. Neither man has any previous convictions.
Judge Martin Nolan imposed a six and a half year term on Mannion who he called “the brains of the operation”. He said, unlike most people before the court who were drug carriers or mules, Mannion owned and sold the drugs and sourced the customers.
He imposed a three year sentence on O’Connor who he said was acting under Mannion’s instructions in return for a weekly wage. Judge Nolan said it was an unusual case because the drugs were sold online using the “deep net (sic)” to countries around the world.
“It may seem that committing crimes on the internet is somewhat easier than selling drugs on the street,” he said. “It gives the impression of invulnerability and the impression that the crime is less serious but it’s not. These two sold drugs to third parties for profit.”
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard former Eircom worker Mannion had set up the online drug dealing business and that O'Connor was paid up to €600 a week to post the packages to customers in countries like Japan, Argentina, Czech Republic and the USA.
Det Sgt Roberts told Caroline Cummings BL, prosecuting, that he and colleagues placed Mannion under surveillance after receiving confidential information about a computer IP address.
They followed his car to the business address and later obtained a search warrant.
Gardai found Mannion and O'Connor on the premises, along with a holdall containing the drugs, a vacuum packing machine, weighing scales, envelopes and labels for posting.
Over his eleven garda interviews, Mannion explained that the operation was “just a market place like any other market place, like eBay”.
He took full responsibility for the drugs seized and described how he would post drug orders to different countries after trading in the digital currency bitcoin.
Mannion told gardai he hadn't expected to get so many customers after setting himself up online, but that “things just flew”. He said he had had “reasonable” financial success with the trade.
He admitted selling drugs on the “dark net” websites Silk Road and Agora and had 90 percent positive feedback from customers.
Det Sgt Roberts told the court that O'Connor, who is self employed as a grip in the film industry, had a “secondary part” as he had only been involved with posting and packaging the drugs.
The detective sergeant agreed with Michael O'Higgins SC, defending Mannion, that it was not difficult to access the dark net and anyone who was a “little tech-savvy” would be able to do so.
Det Sgt Roberts said Mannion “is not the normal type of criminal we deal with”.
He agreed with Sean Guerin SC, defending O'Connor, that his client had not been the garda surveillance target and had had drug issues at the time.
Det Sgt Roberts agreed with both counsel that their clients had been fully co-operative and were unlikely to be before the courts again.
Mr O'Higgins submitted to Judge Nolan that Mannion had quit a €36,000 a year job with Eircom in 2013 and set up the online drugs business, an e-cigarette business and an auction website.
Counsel described his client as “not a very mature person” who had been using cocaine and alcohol at the time. He submitted that Mannion had not made any significant money from dealing drugs or had led an extravagant lifestyle.
Mr Guerin submitted that O'Connor had had a drug dependency at the time but was now clean and had a “bright future” in the film industry. He said O'Connor cared for both his parents.
Both defence counsel asked the judge to be lenient in sentencing.