Man caught in possession of over €100k following Virginia ATM raid jailed
A FAMILY man with a reputation for doing good work in his community who got involved with a gang committing ATM thefts wept as was jailed by the Special Criminal Court on Monday.
Niall Finnegan (39) of Cherry Grove, Cullyhanna, Co Armagh pleaded guilty in July at the three-judge court to possessing or handling €103,000 at The Yard, Tullypole, Moynalty, Co Meath, on August 20, 2019, following an ATM theft in Virginia, Co Cavan, days earlier.
At the non-jury court, Mr Justice Tony Hunt jailed Finnegan for four-and-a-half years, suspending the final 18 months for three years, for possessing the cash, which was the proceeds of ATM thefts carried out by a criminal organisation.
Finnegan's barrister Breffni Gordon BL asked the court to consider postponing the activation of the sentence until after Christmas so that Finnegan could spend the holiday season with his three children.
Mr Justice Hunt denied the application by defence counsel saying Finnegan would be better off starting the sentence now and have the Christmas "at the other end" without a sentence hanging over him.
Finnegan had pleaded guilty to committing the offence under Section 73 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which states that a person 'commits a serious offence for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organisation'.
In sentencing Finnegan this week, Mr Justice Hunt said Detective Sergeant Mark Looby had given evidence to the court regarding an investigation into six ATM thefts in Cavan and Monaghan between September 2018 and August 2019. The judge said these ATM thefts had been carried out by what gardaí believed to be a cross-border gang based in east Monaghan and south Armagh.
Det Sgt Looby said the gang had used excavators to rip the ATMs from their locations, and they had caused "significant amounts of criminal damage" during six raids and attempted raids in the Border region.
He also said the gang had stolen €790,000 before arrests were made two years ago by undercover detectives monitoring the activities of suspects. Mr Justice Hunt said that in the early hours of August 14, 2019, a grey Toyota Landcruiser and a flat back truck was used to steal a 14-tonne digger on the Bailieborough Road in Virginia, Co Cavan. The digger was to be used in the theft of the ATM at the Riverfront Hotel in the town but the Garda Emergency Response unit intervened. Two men were arrested inside the hour after gardaí intervened and a third man was later arrested.
Mr Justice Hunt said that gardaí got a search warrant for a yard at Tullypole and found €289,900 in cash and a money counter in a shed.
One of the arrested males had at that stage been released by gardaí and then driven to Tullypole by Finnegan in his Berlingo van where two packages of cash were dug up and put in the shed.
Finnegan and this male left and returned with a third male in a Toyota Avensis later in the day and put €15,000 in the car and €88,900 in the boot of the Avensis, which was later discovered to be registered in a false name.
Mr Justice Hunt said that, while Finnegan admitted to twice driving to Tullypole on the day, he denied any involvement with the ATM thefts.
The judge said that Finnegan had an assault conviction from 2002 for which he received a suspended sentence but that he had not come to adverse Garda attention since the incident on August 14, 2019.
The judge said the maximum for the offence was 15 years' imprisonment but placed the crime at the lower end of the middle spectrum.
At his sentence hearing, Finnegan gave an undertaking to not be involved in any criminality nor associate with other named individuals before the courts on ATM theft charges.
Mr Justice Hunt gave Finnegan credit for his guilty plea, his co-operation with the investigation, his work history, work in the community and said that he was a family man.
However, the judge said that Finnegan had "no doubt" that he was aware of the background to the case in reference to the ATM thefts. Mr Justice Hunt said there was no "romantic" reading to the crimes and that often crime cash was funding further crime. The loss of an ATM to a rural town, said the judge, was a "significant concern" to communities.
Mr Justice Hunt fixed six years as a pre-mitigation headline sentence, adding that he could not envisage a non-custodial sentence as it would "almost certainly be unduly lenient". The judge said that criminal gangs often preyed on the vulnerable and those easily manipulated but noted that Finnegan did not have financial or addiction issues.
The judge then gave Finnegan the full 25% discount for his guilty plea, resulting in a four-and-a-half year sentence, and suspended the final 18 months of the sentence for three years.
A loved one embraced a tearful Mr Finnegan before he was then taken to the cells.
At his sentencing hearing, Padraig Dwyer SC had told the court that Finnegan has no relevant previous convictions and "has no truck" with the other men who carried out the theft. He asked the court to consider a non-custodial sentence.
Mr Dwyer had told the court that Finnegan's family and members of his community had written references for the court. They showed, counsel said, that he is a hard-working family man who is involved with his community, volunteers for the GAA and other groups and shows "exceptional kindness and care" to others.
Mr Dwyer said the crime his client committed was out of character and, when interviewed by gardaí, he cooperated by admitting what he had done.
Mr Dwyer added that the court should be satisfied that, "he has no truck with these individuals any more and has not for some time and he intends to remain out of trouble for the rest of his life".
Counsel said that sometimes good people make mistakes and have lapses in judgement and he asked the court to bear in mind that custodial sentences are a last resort.
Mr Justice Hunt indicated that, in sentencing, the court must also consider deterrents to prevent others committing crimes.
He also told Mr Dwyer that a "light" sentence can be considered unduly lenient and overturned by the Court of Appeal who have, in other cases, imposed longer sentences. "A sympathetic sentence does them no good. It postpones the evil day," he said.