An international gang member caught moving "obscene" amounts of crime cash - over €600,000 - would have been better off driving "a cheap banger off Done Deal" rather than the €72,000 Mercedes used in the operation, a judge has remarked.
At the Special Criminal Court on Friday, the State applied to take possession of the 2018-registered S-Class Mercedes from Thomas Rooney (52), who has been described as a "mid-to-high" level member of the gang.
Rooney of Betaghstown, Bettystown, Co Meath, pleaded guilty in July 2021 to possessing €289,770 and £65,000 (€77,500) in crime cash in a blue Nike holdall in the Spar car park at Donore Road, Drogheda, Co Louth on May 11th, 2020.
He pleaded guilty to two further charges of possessing cash, which were also the proceeds of crime and also pleaded guilty to possessing €254,840 in a black holdall bag, also at Donore Road, and to possessing €7,650 at North Road, Drogheda, both on May 11th, 2020.
All three charges are offences under Section 7 of the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing) Act 2010.
Rooney was sentenced to six years' imprisonment by the three-judge court in January of this year.
In May 2021, Rooney's then-partner Catherine Dawson (44), also of Betaghstown and with whom he has two children, was given a fully suspended sentence by the Special Criminal Court for her role in moving the gang's money, having admitted to possession of the contents of the Nike bag at the car park.
Dawson was a carer who used a company car as a cover for transporting the money and was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison, however it was suspended on condition that she be of good behaviour for five years.
On Friday at the three-judge court, Garret Baker BL said the State was seeking the forfeiture of the Mercedes, which was in possession of Rooney's chauffeur service company EBT Executive Travel Ltd.
Mr Baker brought the application under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice Act 1994, which says that the State may apply for the forfeiture if a property which 'has been used for the purpose of committing, or facilitating the commission or any offence'.
Mr Baker told the court that the State was seeking the forfeiture of the car because Rooney had pleaded guilty to counting €7,650 in crime cash from an envelope in the vehicle. Counsel said Rooney had also sent co-ordinating texts from a phone plugged into the car to Dawson, who returned messages in acknowledgement of the plan.
Counsel said Rooney had texted Dawson "one more", in reference to another bag of money about to be delivered to her vehicle by an unidentified male. Dawson responded with a "K" which Mr Baker said was shorthand for 'OK'.
Mr Baker said that any notion of the vehicle being "divorced" from the operation was "fanciful and artificial". He said the vehicles were "very deliberately" used to transfer the money in bags and to convene at the car park to then move "in convoy", albeit without the knowledge of the Garda surveillance operation in place.
Counsel said that the value of the Mercedes in 2018, when EBT took out a loan for its purchase, was €72,000. Mr Baker said that in his Garda interviews, Rooney had said: "I thought I was being clever by changing cars."
"It was a deliberate, conscious and pre-meditated strategy to use multiple vehicles to reduce detection," said Mr Baker, who added that it was an "obvious example of the use of the vehicle in the commission, or facilitation, of an offence".
Presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt said Rooney would have been better off with a "cheap banger off done deal" rather than the "high-end" vehicle in question, to which Mr Baker agreed, saying that if someone was "rumbled" for such an offence that the consequences can "go beyond personal liberty".
"It is a legitimate application to make if people engage with obscene amounts of money that are criminally generated," Mr Baker said.
John D Fitzgerald SC, for Rooney, said his client had admitted from the outset of his involvement in moving the cash and that he had exculpated his former partner, Dawson, from the operation.
Mr Fitzgerald said the two hold-all bags were not in the Mercedes sought by the State at the time of the arrest and that it had been accepted by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that the car was part of a "legitimate business" run by Rooney.
Defence counsel said the forfeiture of the car would cause undue hardship on his client, who needed the car to continue trading when he is released from prison.
Regarding the argument of "hardship" put forward by Mr Fitzgerald, Mr Justice Hunt said people who use limited company status accept the benefits of that status, but must also accept the burdens.
Mr Fitzgerald said the DPP had accepted the car was used for legitimate business purposes but that on this occasion, his client accepted it was used in an offence.
Responding, Mr Baker said the car was "integral" to the commissioning of the offence as it was used in an "A to B" crime cash money strategy and that the phone used by Rooney in co-ordinating the operation was "physically plugged into the car".
Mr Justice Hunt adjourned the matter to June 2nd, for decision on the forfeiture.