McKevitt cross-examined at Special Criminal Court

FBI agent David Rupert told the Special Criminal Court in Dublin today that he had discussed setting up an offshore bank off the Florida coast to launder crime money after his businesses in New York state had been seized by a bank because he defaulted on a loan.

FBI agent David Rupert told the Special Criminal Court in Dublin today that he had discussed setting up an offshore bank off the Florida coast to launder crime money after his businesses in New York state had been seized by a bank because he defaulted on a loan.

Mr Rupert said he had discussed the idea of using high speed hovercraft taxis going to and from off shore gambling boats with Diego Silva, a man who claimed to have connections with former Chilean dictator General Pinochet and former Panamian dictator General Noriega.

He also brought a man named Guy Scalzi that he may have referred to as a "mob lieutenant" to Florida to discuss the project but Scalzi and Silva got drunk and he never saw Scalzi again.

"The downfall was nobody had any money. When everybody found out nobody had any money that was the end of the project," he told the court.

The former trucking company boss said that he moved to Florida in 1985 with his wife, Julie, to "lick his wounds" after his businesses were seized by the Massena Savings and Loan bank in New York state.

They rented a $350-a-month one bedroom condo on the beach at Treasure Island and his wife worked for a bank.

Mr Rupert (aged 51), is the chief prosecution witness in the trial of alleged Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt and the court has been told he received $1.25m after agreeing in 1994 to infiltrate dissident republican groups for the FBI and later for the British Security Service (MI5).

Mr Rupert has told the court that during meetings with Mc Kevitt the Co Louth man told him of plans for a new terrorist campaign in Britain and requested material from the United States for bomb making.

It was the seventh day of the trial of Michael Mc Kevitt (aged 53), of Beech Park, Blackrock, Co Louth who has pleaded not guilty to two charges - membership of an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA between August 29, 1999 and March 28, 2001 and to directing the activities of the same organisation between March 29, 1999 and October 23, 2000.

Cross examined by Mc Kevitt's counsel Mr Hugh Hartnett Sc , Mr Rupert denied that he was "lying low" in Florida to avoid law suits after the collapse of his businesses.

"I wasn't lying low, I was enjoying the sun," he said. "I did nothing for a year because I was licking my wounds from losing my businesses."

Asked why he had left New York State, Mr Rupert said it was because it was "30 below zero" there and if he had stayed in the community after losing his businesses he would have "got beaten up on".

He said he had moved his wife Julie to Florida because she was being leaned on heavily by her father who was a stockholder in the Massena bank that he was in dispute with and he wanted to keep her away until things were sorted out.

Asked by Mr Hartnett who paid for him to lie on a beach in Florida, sipping a cocktail and smoking a cigar, Mr Rupert replied that the suggestion was "improper and wrong".

"When I was in Florida I would have had for all intents and purposes no money," he said.

Mr Hartnett replied: "I withdraw the cigar."

Mr Rupert said that he had come up with the idea of setting up an offshore gambling operation while he was "licking his wounds" and had discussed it with his next door neighbour, an attorney and Diego Silva.

Silva claimed to have connections with General Pinochet and to be a friend of General Noriega and he had suggested setting up a Bank of Panama on the offshore boats. Mr Rupert said he met Mr Silva at the office of an attorney who was also interested in the project but he could not recall the attorney's name or address.

He then spoke to a friend of his in the trucking business in New York who mentioned a Guy Scalzi who was from Syracuse and who knew about gambling and Mr Scalzi came to Florida and had dinner with him and Silva.

Asked by Mr Hartnett if he had described Mr Scalzi as a "a mob lieutenant", Mr Rupert said: "I don't recall that. I could have."

He said his understanding of a mob lieutenant was based on watching US television shows such as The Sopranos.

Asked by Mr Hartnett what the term means when it is used in The Sopranos, Mr Rupert said:"I suppose it's a step above a volunteer, or a made guy."

He agreed it was a Mafia term and said it may have been the terminology he used at the time to describe Mr Scalzi because e assumed his last name was Sicilian, he was from Syracuse and he knew a lot about gambling.

The trial continues tomorrow.

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