Man who suffered “unfathomable tragedy” in his personal life avoids jail

Man who suffered “unfathomable tragedy” in his personal life avoids jail

A man who suffered “unfathomable tragedy” in his personal life has avoided jail after being caught with €30,000 of a cutting agent sometimes used with cocaine.

The court heard Noel Fitzgerald (48) was a well respected member of his inner city community and this offence was “wildly out of character.”

Fitzgerald, of St Michans House, Greek Street, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possession of benzocaine in circumstances which gave rise to the reasonable inference that it was for a purpose connected to a drug trafficking offence on April 22, 2015.

Judge Melanie Greally said the amount of benzocaine seized was very significant and was clearly intended to be used as a cutting agent for the cocaine business. She said he was performing a necessary function in “fetching and carrying” to keep the whole drug structure going.

She noted he was a contributing member of the community active in projects which help keep young people away from the drug trade. She said he had not come to any further garda attention and did not appear to be materially gaining from the offence.

She said she was going to take into account the exceptional personal circumstances in the years proceeding this event and noted a family member had said he had became “detached” from them around this time.

Judge Greally imposed a three year sentence which she suspended in full for five years but warned Fitzgerald if he came before the court again with any hint of involvement with unsavoury elements with in the community he would serve the entire sentence.

Detective Jerome Toomey told Dara Hayes BL, prosecuting, that gardai following the movements of a transit van driven by a co-accused that arrived into Dublin on a ferry observed items being moved by Fitzgerald and the co-accused from the van to a car at Greek Street.

The men got into the van and drove down to the quays where Fitzgerald got out and walked back towards Greek Street. He was approached by gardai and a set of car keys retrieved from him.

The car was searched and bags containing white and brown powders, which gardai initially thought were controlled drugs, were recovered.

On analysis the white power was found to be benzocaine and the brown powder was caffeine and paracetamol mixed together. There was 60 kilograms of benzocaine seized with a value of €30,000.

Fitzgerald told gardai he knew it was “not above board” but that he knew they were not drugs. He said he had been “doing a favor” for someone else. He did not wish to answer some questions for personal reasons. He has two minor previous convictions.

Det Gda Toomey said benzocaine could be used as a “cutting agent” with cocaine. He said in analysis of cocaine carried from 2010 to 2012, benzocaine was found in 28pc of cases.

He said caffeine and paracetamol were also regularly used as adulterants or cutting agents.

Det Gda Toomey said Fitzgerald had been awaiting further instruction on what to do with the items.

He agreed with Pieter le Vert BL, defending, that Fitzgerald had owned up to his own role but did not answer questions about who else was involved or what was the nature of “the favor.”

Mr Le Vert said Fitzgerald was well respected resident of the inner city and worked all his life. He said his life had been “marred by unfathomable tragedy” including the death of some of his children. His son and wife also suffered ill health.

He said Fitzgerald had a number of health issues and around the time of the offence “everything hit him at once” and he began to abuse sleeping tablets.

Mr Le Vert said in the face of all this Fitzgerald soldiered on and contributed to his community in a meaningful way. He had been involved in a football and boxing club in his locality.

He submitted that the offence was entirely out of character and Fitzgerald had expressed profound regret and self disgust. He asked that his client, as someone who contributed to the community, be given a chance to remain there.