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Three men jailed for taking part in Kinahan cartel plan to kill Hutch family member

The three men received sentences totalling 19 years at the Special Criminal Court today.

LAST UPDATE | 29 Jun 2020

THE KINAHAN CARTEL is a cynical criminal organisation that preys upon “desperate and foolish” individuals in the recruitment of “dispensable foot-soldiers”, a High Court judge has said.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt made the comments at the Special Criminal Court today as he imposed sentences totalling 19 years on three men who took part in a Kinahan Cartel plot to kill a member of the Hutch family in Dublin’s north inner city.

Michael Burns (43) was jailed for nine years whilst Stephen Curtis (32) and Ciaran O’Driscoll (25) were both sentenced to five years each in prison for their role in the plot to murder Patrick “Patsy” Hutch.

Sentencing the defendants today, presiding judge Mr Justice Hunt said the court was satisfied that the three men were working for the Kinahan organised crime gang, which is involved in money laundering and drug trafficking. He said the gang operated in cells or subcells based on a hierarchical structure and was prepared to use violence up to and including murder to achieve its aims.

The judge emphasised the “cynicism” of the Kinahan criminal organisation, where “vulnerable, desperate and foolish” individuals took risks for surprisingly modest returns and could be described as “dispensable foot soldiers”.

Passing sentence on Burns today, Mr Justice Hunt said he had acted as a “conduit” and was a supervisor of the sub-cell who organised logistics, including phones, guns and cars and he got his directions from the “higher echelons” of the Kinahan crime organisation.

Burns had received his instructions from Suspect Number 1 through an encrypted phone and the evidence was unequivocal in that he had assisted in the preparation of the very grave crime of murder, he said.

His role was to supervise and ensure the smooth running or planning of the plot, although he was not the author of these instructions, which he passed on from another man known as Suspect Number 1, said the judge. He also passed on instructions developed by others at a higher level and was not at the top of the hierarchy, he said.

There was no doubt that Burns’ assistance was of considerable help to the “insidious and destructive” nature of the Kinahan criminal organisation, he said. Burns’ conduct in the facilitation was intentional as opposed to reckless and he had supervised those below him on the back of instructions from above in a deliberate and calculating manner, continued the judge.

The judge said the headline sentence was 13 years imprisonment and the weightiest mitigation factor was his guilty plea which deserved a straight 25 per cent discount.

Burns did not gain financially or in any material way from this event and was of no fixed abode at the time, said the judge. He had not acquired a significant criminal record until his mid-30s and his physical and mental issues had already been documented to the court. The judge sentenced him to nine years and nine months in prison with the final nine months suspended.

Passing sentence on Curtis, Mr Justice Hunt said the court accepted that he belonged in a different category to Burns and although his assistance was limited it was nonetheless valuable at the last stage in the plot. Curtis was involved in sub-cell meetings and in buying phones and SIM cards to be used by the “hit-team”. He was recorded expressing reservations about Suspect Number 1, the man in charge of the attempted murder, and said he wanted to get out of the gang.

Mr Justice Hunt said that Curtis did not stand to gain from his involvement in the plan and the €500 owed to him for his role was “as good an illustration as any in regards to the risk and reward” involved. He was the type of person who would be “preyed” upon by the criminal organisation and this crime represented “a massive step up” from his previous convictions, he said. He was sentenced to six years in prison with the final year suspended.

Sentencing O’Driscoll, Mr Justice Hunt said he had agreed to perform the limited but vital function of “looker”, who would watch Mr Hutch’s house and signal the hit-team when he emerged so they could shoot him. He was at the lowest level of the subcell and was unlikely to have been picked were it not for the “happenstance” that his grandmother also lived on Champions Avenue, he said.

He was useful to the Kinahan cartel as his presence on the road would not have been out of place in the ordinary way, he explained.

Furthermore, O’Driscoll did not stand to gain in any significant way and naively took enormous risks for the organisation by using his own phone which assisted in his identification.

He was told that the organisation would clear his drug debt, which showed the cynicism of the organisation, said the judge.

O’Driscoll was exactly the kind of vulnerable person who was preyed on by the Kinahan organisation in return for negligible rewards, he noted. The court previously heard that Curtis previously told a probation officer that “drugs took me into it” and he would have done anything for his “next fix”. He was sentenced to six years in prison with the final year suspended.

During last month’s sentence hearing for the three men, evidence was given that gardai recovered a written record of the financial expenditure of the Kinahan gang sub-cell from a suspect’s address.

This breakdown of the expenses and payments of the operation to murder Mr Hutch – the older brother of the leader of the rival Hutch organised crime group – detailed a “starting balance” of €7,000 and recorded how “logistical costs” came to in excess of €10,000.

Michael Burns, of no fixed abode, Ciaran O’Driscoll of Avondale House, Cumberland Street, Dublin 1 and Stephen Curtis of Bellman’s Walk, Seville Place, Dublin 1 have admitted to having knowledge of the existence of a criminal organisation and participating in activities intended to facilitate the commission of a serious offence by that criminal organisation, or any of its members, namely the murder of Mr Hutch within the State between February 1 and March 10, 2018, both dates inclusive.

Burns had pleaded guilty to passing instructions to one or more members of a criminal organisation and of acting as a conduit for communications by providing phones. He has also admitted transporting one or more members of a criminal organisation, moving one or more vehicles for subsequent use by one or more members of a criminal organisation and planning or assisting in planning the intended shooting of Mr Hutch.

O’Driscoll had pleaded guilty to agreeing to act as a look-out and to helping plan the intended shooting.

Curtis had admitted providing, or assisting in providing, one or more mobile phones for use by the criminal organisation and purchasing or assisting in the purchase of one or more mobile phones, sim cards and credit top-ups. The activities also include passing on the phone number of the “looker” (or look-out) – O’Driscoll – to a member of the criminal organisation and planning or assisting in planning the intended shooting of Mr Hutch.

The non-jury court was previously told that large sums of money were made available to murder people and those involved in the Kinahan cartel were paid €20,000 for “setting people up for a hit”. It also heard that audio surveillance of a conversation between a woman and one of the suspects involved in a plot to murder Mr Hutch picked up references to “they have so much money, they could buy half the Hutch lads” and “they’re getting €20,000 and all for setting somebody up, used to get that for doing the hit”.

In a related sentence hearing last month, Mr Justice Hunt said the court accepted garda evidence that the Kinahan organised crime gang is involved in “execution-type murders” to protect its core activities, which include organised drugs and firearms offences on “an international scale”.

The court further accepted that the crime gang operated “an organised hierarchical structure” with “cells and subcells” to “segregate activities and limit knowledge” among gang members. The gang also operated on directions from superiors within this hierarchy.

Earlier today, Stephen Curtis’s brother, Patrick (38) of the same address at Bellmans Walk, pleaded guilty to directing the activities of a criminal organisation within the State between 1 February, 2018 and 10 March, 2018, and had his case adjourned to 30 July.

Mohammed Smew (27) of Milner’s Square, Shanowen Road, Santry, Dublin 9, pleaded guilty to participating in the facilitation of a serious offence, to wit the murder of Patsy Hutch, by providing, moving and repairing vehicles, and of the planning or assisting to plan an attempted shooting between 1 February 2018 and 3 March 2018.

Sentence hearing

At last month’s sentence hearing, Detective Superintendent David Gallagher from the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, summarised the facts of the case.

Det Supt Gallagher told prosecuting counsel Sean Gillane SC that the investigation occurred between 1 February and 21 March, 2018 and the surveillance operation initially focused on a Mercedes car, which was connected to Burns.

The investigation involved a combination of features including manual surveillance, audio surveillance, the harvesting of CCTV footage and phones. The target of the Kinahan organised crime group was Mr Hutch and there were 10 people involved in the plot to murder him, he said.

The court heard Mr Hutch travelled on a motorcycle and it was covered with tarpaulin in his front garden on Champions Avenue.

Det Insp Gallagher explained that the investigation focused on “disrupting and dismantling” the capabilities of the criminal organisation. The gang operated inside and outside the jurisdiction and it was hierarchical in nature. The purpose of the sub-cell, which was formed in the north inner city, was to carry out the murder of Mr Hutch, he pointed out.

There were three essential stages in the plan to murder Mr Hutch. The first was to set up a “staging post” at Belmont apartments which was midway between two locations associated with the target Patrick Hutch.

The second was a “ruse” to commit criminal damage “to lure” Mr Hutch from his home to the murder scene while a “looker” would give the “hit team” the signal when he was on his way. The third element was to have a “getaway location” at Stoney Road in East Wall in Dublin 3 where the gunmen would go through a pedestrian tunnel and a car would be waiting on the other side to take them away.

Det Insp Gallagher explained that O’Driscoll’s role was to act as a “look-out” for Mr Hutch, Curtis had sourced the mobile phones and credit which were ultimately to be used by the “hit-team” and Burns’ role was to supervise others in relation to the planning and overall surveillance.

The court heard that Burns and another suspect had done reconnaissance trips around Dublin 1 including to Mr Hutch’s address. Evidence was also given of audio recordings between Burns and other individuals involved in the plot discussing Mr Hutch’s movements, his motorcycle and how he might be drawn from his house.

Burns said in one of the recordings: “It’s a white yoke, you see him coming out of the bottom of the junction. I’d personally wait until he gets to the gate.” He was also recorded as saying to another associate: “Just floor it straight behind him and do what you have to do and by the time he turns it will be game over”.

Audio surveillance also captured a discussion between a woman and an individual referred to as suspect Number 1 discussing money. Suspect Number 1 tells the woman: “They have so much money, they could buy half the Hutch lads” and “they’re getting €20,000 and all for setting somebody up, used to get that for doing the hit”. Det Insp Gallagher said this put in context some of the money available to the gang.

Burns was also heard saying in another conversation: “I have the two big instruments for you”, in a reference to firearms.

Referring to Curtis, Det Insp Gallagher said he had purchased nine mobile phones, sim cards and phone credit. He was also captured on audio-surveillance saying that Suspect Number 1 was “getting it wrong” as the coffee shop they met at was “packed with coppers” and he wanted out of the gang.

The detective said that after the hit was foiled, several mobile phones were seized from the gang members’ addresses. The ‘L’ phone was attributed to O’Driscoll and stood for “looker”, he said.

Det Insp Gallagher said the gang leader’s home was searched and a written record of financial expenditure was found which had a starting balance of €7,000. The witness noted that €6,500 was spent including €2,000 for O’Driscoll, €1,000 for Burns, a further €750 for Burns, €500 for phones, €400 on credit, €200 on diesel and €40 on wheel repair. The logistical costs came to in excess of €10,000 and did not include the cost of paying for the cars, the vans or the guns, he added.

The court heard that Burns has 10 previous convictions which include possession of drugs for sale and supply. Curtis has 38 previous convictions including violent disorder and O’Driscoll, who has a long-standing drug problem, has 89 previous convictions including a conviction for robbery.

Under cross-examination, Det Insp Gallagher agreed with defence counsel Michael Bowman SC, for Burns, that his client did not operate at the highest role in the sub-cell and he had taken his directions from Suspect Number 1. The detective agreed that Burns was not even in charge of money and Suspect Number 1 was apportioning expenses as required.

The witness agreed with Bernard Condon SC, for O’Driscoll, that he had difficulty with drugs from a very young age and was at the lowest level of the organisation.

In mitigation, Mr Bowman said that Burns was approaching the middle years of his life, had significant psychological difficulties from his childhood and had a breakdown in 2011.

Mr Condon, for O’Driscoll, submitted to the court that his association with the gang was limited to “happenstance” and he would not have been picked to be part of the gang other than the fact his grandmother lived on the same road as Mr Hutch.

In his submissions, Seamus Clarke SC, for Curtis, said that a value of €500 was put on his client. Mr Clarke asked the judges to be as lenient as possible when sentencing his client and to consider in mitigation his early guilty plea.

Kinahan Cartel foot soldier Mark Capper (31), who “poured cold water on” and withdrew from a plan to murder Mr Hutch three days before the proposed killing was last month also jailed by the Special Criminal Court for seven-and-a-half years. He was the fourth member of the hit team to be jailed.

Capper had admitted helping the organised crime group in a plan to kill Mr Hutch by providing and repairing vehicles for the criminal organisation and carrying out reconnaissance.

In July 2019, a three-man “hit for hire team” received sentences totalling 36.5 years at the Special Criminal Court for planning to kill Mr Hutch before they were intercepted by gardai just 250 metres from their target’s home in Dublin’s north inner city.

Gary Thompson (35) and his brother Glen Thompson (25) were each jailed for 12 years and six months. A third man, Afghan war veteran Robert Browne (36) was sentenced to 11 years and six months in prison.

Gary Thompson, with an address at Plunkett Green in Finglas, Dublin 11, his brother Glen Thompson, of Plunkett Drive, also in Finglas, and Robert Browne, of Phibsboro Road in Phibsboro, Dublin 7 admitted to unlawful possession of four firearms with intent to endanger life at Belmont Hall Apartments, Gardiner Street, Dublin 1 on March 10, 2018. The four firearms included a 9mm Rak submachine gun, a .38 Special Calibre Rossi Make Revolver, a 9mm Beretta 92 semi-automatic pistol and a 9mm Makarov semi-automatic pistol.

Alison O'Riordan
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