Four men charged after Garda cracked down on the “epidemic” of extortion by drug debt collectors

FOUR men have been charged after police cracked down on an “epidemic” of extortion and violence by drug debt collectors.

One of the defendants, a pizza maker, is said to have mistakenly telephoned and threatened an off-duty Lake Garda, while in another case an alleged victim was stabbed repeatedly by another suspect over alleged debts.

A court heard the problem was “blooming” during the Covid crisis and a Garda division in Dublin currently has 30 separate investigations underway into drug-related intimidation.

Three of the four who appeared before Dublin District Court today have been granted bail while the other has not applied for bail.

Charlie Cunningham, 23, of Kelly’s Bay Heights, Skerries, Co Dublin, is charged with making threats to demand money and threatening to kill him or causing serious damage.

Ryan Keeley, 20, of Coultry Place, Ballymun, is charged with making two counts of death threats or causing serious damage and three counts of making threats to demand money.

Sean Jones, 19, of Kiltalown Way, Tallaght, is charged with aggravated burglary, making a knife, demanding money with threats and assaulting a man.

Mr Jones’ stepfather David Savage, 30, of Ballymun but of no fixed address, is accused of assaulting the same man.

Gardaí refused bail in all four cases.

Judge Treasa Kelly granted bail to Mr Cunningham, Mr Jones and Mr Keeley but Mr Savage was remanded in custody with consent.

The four are on trial and their cases have been adjourned to prepare evidence books.

Detective Garda Domhnall O’Connell said apart from the cases of Mr Jones and Mr Savage, the charges are unrelated. However, they were investigated as part of Operation Fógra, a Lake Garda initiative to combat drug-related intimidation.

“The whole drug debt epidemic flourished during the Covid crisis when the debt was difficult to repay during the lockdown,” he said.

He outlined the allegations in his bail objection.

In Mr Cunningham’s case, the court heard that the accused, a pizza maker, was allegedly called to the home of an off-duty Garda in Donabate, North Co Dublin on 1 January 2021. The Garda opened the door and Mr Cunningham allegedly asked was a “named person” who lived at the address.

That person did not live there but nearby and the off-duty Garda said no, the accused must have the wrong house, Det Gda O’Connell continued.

Mr Cunningham walked and walked away but returned, insisting it was the right house, saying he wanted money and it would be “better for everyone if it was paid” or he would “get people to come back.” and breaking down doors”. was claimed.

According to prosecutors, the alleged victim told the defendant he was a Garda, after which Mr Cunningham urged him to arrest him.

He also reportedly said, “Now that I know you’re a Garda, you’re screwed.”

The court heard there was an audio and video recording of the “entire incident.”

In Mr Jones’ case, Det Gda O’Connell said there were two alleged incidents. The first was in Ballymun on January 1, 2021, when the alleged victim was visiting a friend and Mr Jones and a second man allegedly called the home uninvited. A verbal altercation ensued before the alleged victim was punched in the head and torso by the second man.

According to the Gardaí, Mr Jones then pulled out a knife and proceeded to stab the alleged victim multiple times before the attackers fled.

The man suffered serious injuries and received 28 stitches at the hospital, where he stayed for 12 days.

On the following February 13, 2021, it was alleged that Mr Jones and another man had been called to a home in Swords, the home of a 60-year-old man with chronic health conditions.

These conditions were said to have been “commented on” by the two, who then demanded €5,000 that the man’s son owed them over a drug debt.

The other man threatened to “break up his house if he didn’t have the money.” It was also claimed that the son would be shot if the money was not paid.

Det Gda O’Connell said it had been alleged Mr Keeley was called to the home of a family of African asylum seekers in three incidents in Northwood, Santry, in March and April last year.

In the first incident, Mr Keeley allegedly said her son owed money on a drug debt and demanded payment. He allegedly said if it wasn’t paid he would shoot the son and kill the family if the Gardaí were contacted.

According to the Gardaí, Mr Keeley returned the next day, again demanding payment and threatening to shoot the son and burn the house down.

On the third date, he reportedly called back and refused entry, instead repeating his demands on the intercom.

Edward Bradbury’s attorney sought bail for Mr Cunningham, while attorneys Paddy McGarry and Roy O’Neill sought bail on behalf of Mr Jones and Mr Keeley.

Judge Kelly granted bail and said the defendants are believed to be innocent. Under certain conditions, they have to register at Garda stations and are not allowed to contact the alleged victims.

Mr McGarry said Mr Savage did not apply for bail.

All defendants were given free legal aid.

None of the four have so far contested the charges. The DPP led the indictment process.

Det Gda O’Connell said there were a total of 30 separate investigations underway in Dublin’s DMR Division North alone.

Amounts in other cases ranged as high as 100,000 euros or mortgage loans, and intimidation included stabbings, death threats and arson attacks, he said.

Gardaí said in a statement: “If you or someone you know is experiencing drug-related intimidation, there is help and support available. Four men charged after Garda cracked down on the “epidemic” of extortion by drug debt collectors

Fry Electronics Team

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