Eastern European gang member jailed over 'military-style' burglaries of Irish businesses
A Lithuanian national has been jailed for five-and-a-half years for his role in a military-style Eastern European burglary gang which terrorised business owners across Munster.
Aurimas Petraska (32) was jailed as Judge Tom O'Donnell warned Limerick Circuit Criminal Court that law-abiding citizens and business operators must be protected from the behaviour of such professional burglary gangs.
"This is a very serious case," he said.
"This was a professional job. This was premeditated and planned down to the last detail and executed with military precision."
He said the business owners not only suffered the loss of their goods but also had substantial damage caused to their premises.
"These are not victim-less crimes," he said, noting that the business owners have faced repair costs, higher insurance premiums and concerns over their personal safety and that of their staff.
Judge O'Donnell praised the dedication and tenacity of gardai who worked for two years to identify and foil the Eastern European gang who employed military-style techniques in their reign of terror across Cork, Tipperary and Limerick.
A garda team under Detective Inspector Joe Moore co-ordinated with detectives across Munster and even drew on intelligence from Europol, Interpol and Baltic State police forces to track down the gang.
The gang used concrete-block laden cars as heavy battering rams to smash their way into pharmacies and boutiques in rural towns.
They even used black paint to darken the windscreens of the cars so no-one could be seen through the windows.
Gang members were clothed in military-style black overalls, had balaclavas, wore forehead-mounted flash lights and each had a large wristwatch to time the raid.
Every robbery was effectively ended once the gang had reached the six-minute mark - thereby evading gardai by leaving the scene well within the average garda robbery response time.
The gang only targeted high-value goods such as Chanel cosmetics, accessories and designer clothing.
Each targeted premises was subject to a careful reconnaissance by the gang before the robbery.
Petraska of Church Street, Rathkeale, Co Limerick pleaded guilty to his role in three robberies which netted the gang €150,000.
Judge O'Donnell was told that Petraska has previous convictions in his native Lithuania, Norway and the Netherlands.
Gardai believe the goods were shipped to Lithuania for sale on the black market across East Europe.
The gang operations were only foiled when detectives, supported by armed members of the Regional Support Unit (RSU), stopped a car at Shanagolden, Co Limerick in June 2016.
When that vehicle was intercepted, a man travelling with Aurimas Petraska was shot when a garda weapon accidentally discharged.
Michael Collins, for the State, said that the gang were highly organised, very skilled and acted with "military precision."
CCTV footage from the various premises robbed showed how they timed their raids - and went straight for high-value items such as Chanel products.
"They were highly sophisticated - they were in and out in six minutes," he said.
Petraska pleaded guilty to a total of five charges, including three of burglary.
He admitted his role in robberies of O'Brien's Pharmacy in Cahir, Co Tipperary, Isobel Boutique in Adare, Co Limerick and O'Connor's Pharmacy in Kinsale, Co Cork.
However, the owner of Isobel Boutique, Kay Muclair, said that while the gang had stolen €80,000 worth of designer clothing from her Adare store, the total loss of revenue she suffered was almost €240,000 due to insurance and store repair issues.
The Lithuanian, who lived in Kaunas, dropped out of college in his native country and moved to Ireland in 2005 though he has repeatedly travelled back to the Baltic state.
He admitted that he had helped convert old cars into battering rams for the gang by removing seats and placing heavy concrete blocks into the vehicle.
Judge O'Donnell noted that Petraska has previous convictions for theft and public order.
The Lithuanian had previously worked in a Lidl supermarket and, for a time, had also worked as a casual labourer.
Judge O'Donnell noted that Petraska is the only member of the East European gang to have been charged to date.
He was paid between €2,000 and €3,000 for each robbery but while admitting his role to gardai, did not reveal the identity of the Eastern European gang leader to detectives.
Judge O'Donnell said he was giving Petraska credit for his guilty plea, co-operation with gardai, personal circumstances and remorse.
His plea had saved the State a potentially lengthy trial with up to 80 witnesses.
He imposed a seven-year prison sentence but agreed to suspend the final 18 months.
Judge O'Donnell backdated the sentence to June 29, 2016, when Petraska was taken into custody.
Petraska, who appeared in court wearing tan trousers and a purple jumper, did not speak during the sentencing hearing.
The court was told he intends to return to Lithuania when his sentence is completed.