NATIONAL: Man found with almost €1 million in bag of onions set for return to jail

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Staff Reporter

NATIONAL: Man found with almost €1 million in bag of onions set for return to jail

A man found with almost €1 million in a bag of onions inside his campervan - crime cash that was destined for the Kinahan Cartel - will be returned to jail after the Court of Appeal this Thursday increased his sentence by a year.

The court heard that after Bernard Joyce was cautioned by gardaí, he made no comment other than indicating that he "liked onions".

The increase in sentence came after the three judges agreed with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that Joyce's three-year sentence was unduly lenient.

The 45-year-old of Newtown, Beauparc, Slane, Co. Meath, pleaded guilty at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court to possessing €911,600, which were the proceeds of criminal conduct, at Arnestown, Foulksmills, Co. Wexford, on September 22, 2018, under the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Act 2010.

Garda Stephen Burke gave evidence that detectives were carrying out a search of the premises at Foulksmills when they met with a lady, who indicated she was in difficulty with a newborn baby along with another child present at the time.

Gda Burke said a camper van was parked at the front of the premises and while gardaí were dealing with the search of the premises, the camper van started up, taking off at speed down the driveway. Gardaí gave chase around the local roads and the camper van then stopped. Gardaí spoke to Joyce and asked why he was in Wexford, and he said that he was there to buy a boat. His teenage son, who was aged 13, was present at the time. 

Gardaí conducted a search of the camper van and, in a hollow section under the bed in the camper van, discovered two gear bags. No fingerprint or DNA evidence was found on the bags or the cash. Inside the bags were parcels wrapped in brown sellotape, which contained cash. There were also onions in the bags. Gda Burke was of the opinion that the purpose of the onions was to avoid detection by a sniffer dog.

Gda Burke testified that after caution he spoke briefly with Joyce, who made no comment other than indicating that he "liked onions". The cash was subsequently counted and the total sum was €911,600.

Prosecuting counsel Sinead Gleeson BL told the sentencing judge that they would be making an application for the forfeiture of the cash, which gardaí believed was destined for the Kinahan Cartel.

Last September, counsel for the DPP Ms Gleeson argued before the Court of Appeal that the sentencing judge had imposed a sentence which did not adequately reflect the gravity of the offence committed. She said aggravating factors included the amount of cash which was recovered by gardaí, the fact that the cash was concealed and that the defendant had attempted to flee from gardaí.

Ms Gleeson submitted that the judge, having placed the offence in the mid-range of seriousness with a headline sentence of seven years, had provided too great a reduction and the final sentence of three years did not reflect the overall gravity of the offence. The judge had referred to the quantity of cash and the seriousness of the offence, but did not refer to the fact that the cash was concealed and divided in bundles surrounded by onions to deter the sniffer dog, she said.

"It seems the sentencing judge gave excessive credit for a guilty plea and may have fallen into error in that regard," she submitted. 

Counsel for Joyce, Philip Sheahan SC, said the judge had applied a careful approach to the sentence and applying two years mitigation from the headline sentence of seven years did not reflect an error.

Delivering an oral judgement this Thursday, Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh said the sum of money was "very significant indeed" and Joyce had initially sought to flee the scene when the gardaí arrived.

The court noted the money was subsequently found, without his assistance, in a concealed area in his camper van. There were onions with the cash, suggesting an attempt to hide the money from garda sniffer dogs, she highlighted, adding that the presence of a minor aged 13 years at the time when Joyce was engaging with gardaí must also be noted.

The judge said Joyce's plea of guilty was a significant mitigating factor and there were various other mitigating factors including his significant post-conviction attempts to address his gambling addiction in prison, the availability of a job offer upon his release and his family circumstances.

Notwithstanding the mitigation, the three-judge court found that Joyce was given an unduly lenient sentence insofar as the judge reduced the headline sentence of seven years to five years and then additionally suspended the last two years. However, Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh said the court accepted the headline sentence of seven years imposed by the sentencing judge.

Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh, who sat with President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham and Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, said the court would reduce the original sentence from the headline of seven years to an actual custodial sentence of four years. The sentence took into account time already served by Joyce in prison. 

Mr Justice Birmingham told lawyers for Joyce this Thursday that he understands the disappointment that will be felt by their client and gave him two weeks to put his affairs in order. He ordered Joyce to present himself at Wexford Garda Station on February 19.