An entrepreneur and Trinity College graduate who organised the importation of €29m worth of cocaine into the country will be sentenced next month.
Gareth Hopkins (aged 33) had been made redundant earlier in the year and told gardaí he was under financial pressure. He is also a director of a number of legitimate companies.
The court heard on a previous occasion that Hopkins was director of a recycling company and a mining company in Sierra Leone. He has a degree in Computer Science from Trinity college.
Hopkins pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possession of cocaine for sale or supply at Ballycoolin, west Dublin and at his then home at Beech Park, Leixlip, Kildare on June 26, 2012. He has been in custody since his arrest and has no previous convictions.
The court heard Hopkins had accepted responsibility for the entirety of the 423 kilograms of cocaine, valued at €29,627,934, imported through Dublin Port and concealed inside a number of wooden flooring planks which were part of a larger consignment.
The drugs were separated from the consignment and later seized at several locations in Dublin and Kildare. The purity of the cocaine was “quite high”, in the region of 65% to 70%.
Judge Mary Ellen Ring adjourned sentencing until June 10 next to allow her to consider testimonials handed into court. She noted the case was “clearly one of the more serious offences of this nature to come before the court” and said she must have regard to any similar cases.
Hopkins faces a presumptive minimum sentence of ten years and a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Patrick Marrinan SC, defending, submitted there were “exceptional circumstances” in the case because of Hopkin’s background, his previous good character and indications he can again be a worthwhile member of the community.
He asked the court to accept that in 2011 and 2012 Hopkins appeared to have been acting “completely and utterly out of character.” He added Hopkins had not profited from this offence.
Mr Marrinan also said Hopkins made substantial contributions to charity between 2008 and 2011.
Garda Eoin Roche told Kerida Naidoo BL, prosecuting, that Hopkins, using a false name, had organised the importation of the planks into Dublin Port via an unsuspecting shipping company.
Gardaí had information that a consignment containing cocaine would be brought in and mounted a surveillance operation.
The consignment arrived on June 18, 2012 and was moved by a transport company, who again were unaware of the true nature of the load, to Clonee where they were met by a jeep registered to Hopkins and directed to sheds at the rear of buildings in Westmanstown.
The drugs, which were concealed within some of the wooden planks, were separated and moved to a premises at Ballycoolin in west Dublin. Some of the drugs were later transported to a location in Tallaght where they were seized by gardaí, who also seized the drugs at Ballycoolin.
Gardaí attended at Hopkins’ home in Kildare and found four slabs of cocaine in a suitcase in a shed at the rear of the house. Hopkins’ partner was unaware of his activities.
A notebook containing details on how to separate the drug slabs from the wooden planks as well as volumes, the amount of drugs and the container number was also found by gardaí.
Hopkins initially made admissions to gardaí about the cocaine found in the shed at his home but denied knowledge of the seizures at Tallaght and Ballycoolin. He denied involvement in the logistics of the importation and said he had been at Westmanstown and Ballycoolin on legitimate business.
He indicated to gardaí at the end of the interview he would give more details the following day.
In later interviews he told gardaí he had been “under duress” but later said he had been under financial pressure and general stress rather than physical duress from a third party.
He made admissions about his own role in relation to the larger amounts of drugs and about the movement of money in and out of his bank account.
Gda Roche agreed with Patrick Marrinan SC, defending, that Hopkins was someone who had not previously been on the garda radar. He agreed Hopkins had “considerable entrepreneurial skills”, comes from a decent family background and that gardaí have “no interest” in his companies.
Mr Marrinan said Hopkins graduated from Trinity with an honours degree in 2003 and took up employment with a property management company where he was employed until March 2012 when he was made redundant. He had an income of €75,000 at that time and his tax affairs were in order.
He said Hopkins was familiar with the import/export business through his own previously legitimate business dealings.
Counsel said Hopkins was “clearly not an insignificant player in relation to this” but submitted his reaction to the charges was not compatible with that of a hardened criminal.
He said Hopkins had grown up in Cabra and he and his sisters had worked their way through college and excelled. One of his sisters died tragically in 2012.
Mr Marrinan said Hopkins had an interest in sport and had made a large number of substantial donations to charity between 2008 and 2011, as well as providing financial assistance to people he knew.
He said Hopkins works as a trustee in the gym in Cloverhill, has taken up music lessons and hopes to do a PhD while in custody. He has also become heavily involved in the prison waste management system in Cloverhill and was giving advice to improve recycling and reduce costs.