A drug mule who became "caught up with a criminal gang" and took the opportunity to "make easy money" has been sent to jail after the Court of Appeal this Thursday found his wholly suspended sentence too lenient.
Ciaran Long (37) of Barntown, Co Wexford, pleaded guilty at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court to possessing €201,000, which were the proceeds of criminal conduct, at the same address, on March 27, 2017, under the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Act 2010.
The Director of Public Prosecution's successfully sought a review of the man’s sentence on grounds that it was “unduly lenient” and Long must hand himself in to gardaí in two weeks' time.
The sentencing judge identified the headline sentence in Long's case at four years and he received a post-mitigation sentence of two-and-a-half years fully suspended. The main mitigating factors were his absence of previous convictions, his lack of awareness of how much money there was and his letter of apology.
Evidence was given at the respondent's sentence hearing that gardaí were in possession of a search warrant when they searched Long's home. He was present in the house during the search and gardaí found a Centra shopping bag, in which there were numerous bundles of cash, which came to the sum of €201,000.
An officer testified that it was his belief that there was a drugs gang operating in the Wexford area and that Long had become caught up in this gang, taking the opportunity "to make easy money" by collecting money on its behalf.
Long made certain admissions to gardaí in his interviews in relation to collecting the money and said he was given €400 to do so. He said that he collected the money in Gorey at a shopping centre and brought it back to his home, where the money was to be collected by an unnamed individual.
Gardaí linked the role of the respondent to that of a "drugs mule" in that Long was collecting money and bringing it to certain locations on behalf of people who generally "keep away" from the daily handling of cash. Due to unknown circumstances, the money was not collected before gardaí arrived at Long's house and discovered the money, the court heard.
Outlining the Court of Appeal's ruling this Thursday in an oral judgement, Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh said this was not "a once-off, impulsive act" as Long had become "caught up" with a criminal gang, taking the opportunity "to make easy money" by collecting money on its behalf.
"His role was at a very low end of the activity but it was helpful to the gang nonetheless," she explained.
Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh said the court found that the four-year headline sentence was too lenient and the three-judge panel would not have had a difficulty if the headline sentence had been set at six years.
The Court of Appeal found that in addition to the sentencing judge's identification of a lenient four year sentence, Long then received a discount of 18 months for mitigating factors together with a suspension of the balance, yielding a sentence of two-and-a-half years suspended in its entirety. Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh said that in view of the seriousness of the offence, the court found that the sentence handed down to Long was unduly lenient.
Resentencing the respondent, the three-judge court set the headline sentence at six years having regard to the sum of money involved and the fact that the appellant was "providing assistance to a drugs gang", albeit that his role with the gang "was very limited and at a low level".
Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh, who sat with President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham and Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, said the court had regard to the fact that the imposition of a custodial sentence on appeal when Long had received a non-custodial sentence at first instance, and given the passage of time, carried an extra dimension of disappointment and impact upon the respondent. The court resentenced Long to two-and-a-half years in prison.
Mr Justice Birmingham told lawyers for Long this Thursday that he understands the disappointment that will be felt by their client and gave him two weeks to put his affairs in order. He ordered Long to present himself at Wexford Garda Station on February 18 to begin his new jail term.
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