A gang erected a “false wall” with a concealed door at an industrial unit in Co Waterford to conceal their cannabis grow house valued at €320,000.
Now, a 46-year-old man has been jailed for 10 years for possession of controlled drugs for sale or supply, with the final two years suspended.
Judge Eugene O'Kelly heard Keith Wilmot, of 13 Willow Park, Ashley Court, Cleaboy, Waterford City, had steady employment as a doorman, with no previous convictions prior to the arrest, but had embarked on a “parallel life” and took on a senior role in a drugs operation operating out of the seaside town.
The unit at 4D in the Riverstown Industrial Estate in Tramore had its own irrigation system and was able to bypass the main electrical supply without the utility provider becoming aware of heavy use, Garda John Murphy of Tramore's Drugs Unit told Waterford Circuit Criminal Court.
An open-plan area, past the false wall, was fitted as a growhouse containing thermometers and heaters. Inside were 340 cannabis plants as well as hydroponics allowing cultivation of the plant.
Tramore gardaí raided the unit with the support of the Garda Armed Support Unit on January 18, 2019, executing a search warrant under Section 26 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
They arrested Wilmott and detained him at Tramore Garda Station, where his phone was seized. He later pleaded guilty.
Text messages on his phone just days before the raid showed the defendant feared gardaí would detect the growhouse after an extractor fan ceased working, and he messaged others to say he had arranged to move the operation to a bigger and more secure unit.
They also showed him offering to pay people €200 per day to help harvest the plants.
Judge O'Kelly said the "damning text messages" showed he was not just a cleaner, as Wilmott originally told gardaí, but someone who "cultivated and recruited others to harvest the plants, and who organised sales" from the growhouse.
The court heard Wilmott had at least a "medium range" role in the criminal enterprise, if not higher. He was nonetheless working for others who had yet to be caught, his defence team said.
He provided names of two men who he worked with to gardaí along with the description of a third.
Garda Murphy said they were unable to trace these men as well as the monies seemingly involved in the enterprise, adding Wilmott did not lead a lavish lifestyle.
However, a second man is due to appear before the court later this year in relation to the case.
Colman Cody SC, for Wilmott, said his client had been under financial pressure following the breakdown of his marriage, and was currently providing for his two children and his partner.
A probation report described Wilmott as of good character and at low risk of reoffending, however Judge O'Kelly said Wilmott was not a vulnerable person and did not suffer addiction issues, forcing him to enter the business.
State barrister Conor O'Doherty said where the market value of the drugs is €13,000 or more, the sentence is for a minimum of 10 years.
Judge O'Kelly applied that sentence with the final two years suspended. They must be spent under the supervision of the Probation Service, he said.