A garage “chop-shop” proprietor in West Cork working with a paramilitary criminals in Armagh has been jailed for two years for his part in cutting up and re-using engines and parts from over €500,000 worth of cars stolen in border area
Gerard Holland, 65, of Tir na Nean, Lislevane, Bandon, County Cork, was sentenced to six years, with the last four years suspended, at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said, “There were a number of creeper burglaries in various counties. Those vehicles found their way to Holland’s premises. He worked in car parts and car sales, engines and tractor sales. The whole escapade – and this went on for years – was a very deliberate, totally criminal escapade.
“Aggravating factors are that he was knowingly involved, deliberately involved. He took part in stripping down engines grinding off of numbers. His culpability is significant. He was at all stages knowingly involved with a criminal orgranisation in or about Crossmaglen.
“(From point of view of investigation) it is an offence that is difficult to find out, difficult to follow and it is also an offence that exposes innocent parties to huge insurance risk.”
The judge accepted that the plea of guilty was significant as a trial would have been a nightmare in terms of trails of evidence. Other mitigating factors raised by defence senior counsel Siobhán Lankford included his age, the absence of previous convictions, his co-operation and the gathering of almost €100,000 compensation through the sale of land.
Ms Lankford said Holland, who was also a local undertaker, first encountered the people from Armagh through Donedeal and she said matters quickly “ran away from him.”
Judge Ó Donnabháin said he hesitated to refer to the defendant’s good work record as part of his work involved “chop-shopping”.
The judge imposed a sentence of six years with the last four years suspended. The sample charges on the 42-count indictment related to various dates between September 2010 and October 2016 at his property at Lislevane.
Detective Garda David Barrett told Cork Circuit Criminal Court how as part of an investigation into the theft of high value cars and tractors from properties in the Republic and Northern Ireland, gardai carried out a search of Holland’s property where he operated a business, Gerard Holland Tractors Sales
Gardai established that Holland was operating a dismantling business or chop shop where he was selling engines and other car parts from 27 stolen cars, some 17 of which were stolen in the Republic and ten of which were stolen in Northern Ireland between 2010 and 2016.
They also found that he had cut up and sold engines and other parts from some nine tractors, six of which had been stolen in Northern Ireland and four of which had been stolen from Co Monaghan over the same period, Det Garda Barrett told the court.
Det Garda Barrett said that cars, which included ten BMWs, seven Audis and other cars had been stolen mainly in “creeper type burglaries” under the cover of darkness in both the Republic and Northern Ireland
He said that an incident room was established and some 300 lines of inquiry were followed up with 110 statements taken
He said that gardai carried out a search of Holland’s premises on September 20th 2016 and found a number of engines from stolen cars while a second search on October 20th 2016 found car chassis which matched the engines found in the first search.
He said that gardai found that the engines had had their serial numbers ground down and erased and they were stamped with new serial numbers while they found cars welded together and sold on to unsuspecting locals in West Cork who thought they were buying bona fide vehicles, he said.
He said that the gang, which was stealing the cars and tractors around the border, was based in Crossmaglen in South Armagh and its members were well known to both the Gardai and the PSNI and had historic links with paramilitaries.
He said that the insurance companies had valued the 17 cars stolen in the Republic were valued at €246,850 while cars stolen in Northern Ireland were valued at £128, 605 and tractors stolen in Northern Ireland were valued at £184,282 with the combined value of all the stolen vehicles totaling €579,004.
The investigation involved both Gardai in West Cork as well as the Stolen Motor Vehicle unit based at Harcourt Square in Dublin as well as the PSNI and Europol with some 60 PSNI officers carrying out searches in South Armagh with helicopter support.
Det Garda Eugene O’Sullivan of the Garda Stolen Vehicle Investigation Unit said the gang would drive the stolen tractors down from Northern Ireland to West Cork overnight via the old N8, avoiding tolls and arriving at Holland’s premises at Lislevane early in the morning.