Two Irishmen, a bitcoin trader and a film technician, have pleaded guilty for darknet markets related drug charges.
The pair had been selling drugs on the darknet markets, Silk Road and Agora and was in possession of €143,000 worth of illegal drugs at a raid conducted by the gardai (the police force of Ireland) in south Dublin in October 2014.
Richard O’Connor (34), of Clonskeagh Road, Clonskeagh and Neil Mannion (34), of Mount Drummond Avenue, Harold’s Cross, both pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis resin, LSD and amphetamine with intent to supply or sell at Bank House Business Centre, South Circular Road on 5th November 2014. Neither have any previous convictions.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that former Eircom Limited worker Neil Mannion had set up the drug dealing business in the darknet markets and that O’Conner was paid up to €600 a week to post the drug packages to customers in countries such as USA , Czech Republic, Japan and Argentina.
On 21st December 2015, Judge Martin Nolan imposed a 6 and a half-year term on Neil Mannion who he called “the brains of the drug operation.” Judge Nolan said, unlike most of the people before the court who were drug mules or carriers, Mannion owned and sold the illegal drugs and sourced the clients.
He imposed a 3 year sentence on Richard O’Connor who he said was acting under the instructions of Mannion in return for a weekly wage.
He said it was an unusual case because the illegal drugs were sold on the internet using the darknet markets to various countries around the world.
Detective Sergeant Brian Roberts told prosecuting counsel, Ms. Caroline Cummings BL, that he and colleagues placed Neil Mannion under surveillance after they had received confidential information about a certain computer IP address.
They then followed his car to the business address and later obtained a search warrant.
Gardai found O’Connor and Mannion on the business premises, along with a tote bag containing the drugs, weighing scales, a vacuum packing machine, labels for posting and envelopes.
Over his 11 garda interviews, Mannion explained that the drug operation was “just a market place just like any other market place, such as eBay.”
Mannion took full responsibility for the seized drugs and also described how he used to post drug orders to various countries after trading in bitcoin.
He told the gardai that he had not expected to get a large number of customers after setting up his online drug business, but that “things just flew.”
He said that he had had “reasonable” financial success with the illegal trade.
Mannion admitted selling the drugs on the darknet markets websites Agora and Silk Road and had 90% positive feedback from darknet markets customers.
Detective Sergeant Roberts told the Dublin court that Richard O’Connor, who’s self-employed as a grip in the film industry, had a “secondary role” as he had only been involved with the packaging and posting of the drugs.
The detective sergeant agreed with Michael O’Higgins Senior Counsel, defending Neil Mannion that it wasn’t difficult to access the darknet markets and anybody who was a little tech savvy would easily be able to do so.
He compared the operation of buying and selling drugs on the darknet markets to Amazon or eBay, saying: “it is a new phenomenon that is growing and ultimately the modern-era of dealing in drugs.”
Detective Sgt Roberts said that Neil Mannion isn’t the normal kind of criminal that they deal with.
He agreed with Sean Guerin Senior Counsel, defending O’Connor that his client hadn’t been the target of the garda surveillance and had had drug issues at the time.
He agreed with both counsel that both Mannion and O’Connor, had been fully cooperative and were not likely to appear before the courts again.
Mr. Michael O’Higgins submitted to Judge Martin Nolan that Neil Mannion had in 2013 quit a €36,000 a year job with Eircom Limited and set up an electronic cigarette business, an auction site and the online drugs business.
He described Mannion as “not a mature individual” who’d been using alcohol and cocaine at the time.
He submitted that his client hadn’t made any substantial money from dealing narcotics or had led a lavish lifestyle.
Sean Guerin submitted that Richard O’Connor had a drug dependency at the time but was now clean and had a “bright future” in the film industry. Mr. Guerin said that Richard O’Connor cared for his parents.
The defence counsel asked Judge Martin Nolan to be lenient in sentencing.