By David Raleigh
A Lithuanian burglary gang lieutenant, who used cars loaded with concrete blocks as battering rams to smash into retail stores, stealing expensive women's clothes and perfumes, has been jailed at Limerick Circuit Court for five and a half years.
Aurimas Petraska, a senior member of the Eastern European gang, of which other members are being pursued in an international police hunt - involving Gardai, Interpol, and Europol - was a key cog in the gang's operations, the court heard.
Aurimas and others "dressed in army fatigues and balaclavas" and "executed the job with military precision", judge Tom O'Donnell said.
"They were in and out" of each premises, in "six minutes", he added.
"They were highly sophisticated," added prosecuting SC Michael Collins.
Petraska transformed "cheap" cars into missiles, capable of smashing through secure premises.
He purchased the vehicles on second-hand car sale websites before spray painting the windows and replacing the car seats with concrete blocks.
This, the court heard, ensured the cars were heavy enough to mount footpaths and crash through shopfronts.
Handing down sentence, judge O'Donnell said Aurimas, a father of one, had steered a "professional job".
"It was premeditated and planned to the last detail."
He commended gardai, led by Cork Detective Inspector Joe Moore; Det Gda Michael Brosnan, and Det Gda Ailish Murphy, for their "painstaking" investigative skills in tracking the gang over a two-year period.
"They were involved in searching through thousands of hours of analysis of CCTV footage; phone records; and car sales receipts," he added.
Targeting the remaining gang members remains a priority for gardai, the court heard.
"The investigation had several layers within other layers, and it is ongoing; substantial garda resources have been used," the judge said.
"There are several dimensions to the garda investigation, including local gardai; national units; as well as (support) from Europol and Interpol," the judge added.
Previously the court heard Aurimas was arrested when members of the armed garda Regional Support Unit (RSU) intercepted him in a car near Shanagolden, on June 29, 2016.
During the course of the arrest, another man "accompanying" Petraska was shot in the face after a garda's gun fired "accidentally", said Mr Collins SC.
The man spent several months in hospital to treat his serious injuries.
Petraska did not disclose to gardai the identify of his boss, however he told officers he was paid between €2,000-€3,000 for each burglary.
Aurimas, 32, with an address at Church Street, Rathkeale, pleaded guilty to a string of burglaries which involved the theft of €150,000 worth of women's clothes, and Chanel beauty products.
During a raid at O'Briens Pharmacy, Cahir, Tipperary, €20,000 worth of Chanel products was stolen.
In a burglary at O'Connor's Pharmacy, Kinsale, Cork, €50,000 worth of Chanel products was taken, and €10,000 damage was caused.
Petraska also admitted stealing €80,000 worth of high-end women's clothes from Isobel Boutique, Adare Co Limerick.
In a victim impact statement, Isobel owner Kay Mulcair, said she lost €240,000 in revenue.
"She is struggling to keep the business open (because of the loss)," the judge said.
The high-end dresses stolen from the Isobel store were conveyed to a Dublin logistics company where they were to be shipped onto containers headed for Lithuania.
Kieran O'Connor, O'Connors Pharmacy, Kinsale, wrote in a victim impact statement, he spent €40,000 on security after the robbery there.
He said he installed anti-ram bars installed outside the front of his premises.
Aurimas had several previous convictions for theft in Holland and Norway, as well as a conviction for public order in his native Lithuania.