CAB target Marcus Sweeney wanted to build online sex toy empire

Business partner says he had no idea of Celtic Tiger socialite’s links to drug dealers

Marcus Sweeney

Brendan Grendon

Sweeney associate Kuldip Singh© Colin Keegan

Marcus Sweeney with Katy French

Patrick O'ConnellSunday World

Criminal Assets Bureau target Marcus Sweeney wanted to build up an online empire centred around an internet sex toy shop, the Sunday World can reveal.

Sweeney believed the sex shop, which he wanted to go live during the pandemic, had the potential to rake in €10,000 a month in profits.

By September 4, 2021, the venture had progressed to a point where he and a business partner officially registered ‘Sex Health Toys’ as a business name with the Irish Companies Office.

But, Sweeney’s partner in the doomed project today reveals how their plans collapsed – after payment providers refused to work with them and the former socialite failed to come up with €25,000 to fund a ‘guerrilla’ marketing campaign.

We tracked Sweeney’s business partner down to a remote part of Galway this week where the entrepreneur said he was shocked at the claims made against Sweeney in the High Court that he is "up to his oxters in organised crime.”

Brendan Grendon

“I don’t read newspapers so I had no idea about any of this,” he told the Sunday World when we called to his door.

“I promote websites online.

“He came to me through some advertising I did. We got chatting over the phone and he had good ideas, I thought.

“So, what we did was, we proceeded to buy an internet domain (address) for the adult store. I have developers who make the stores, so I paid for one of the stores – it didn’t cost me much –on the basis that he would put what he was saying was €25,000-plus into marketing.

“He was talking about guerrilla marketing and that kind of stuff. So, I thought: ‘Fine. If you do the marketing, I’ll do the ordering of any products’.

“But, he never did and it never got off the ground.

Sweeney associate Kuldip Singh© Colin Keegan

“And just recently, after about a year of paying for the monthly term fees on the site, I contacted him to invoice for the fees and told him I wanted to sell the site.

“But I never got a buyer for the site, I got inquiries but I never got a buyer.It was his idea and it should have gone well.”

The businessmen continued: “He (Sweeney) had loads of different ideas.

“So, I sent him to a couple of developers in Dublin at the time who had a site they were selling.

“And he was talking about incorporating all their websites into one company and selling the company at a later stage.”

The businessman said such was the level of interaction with Sweeney he felt that they had almost become friends and they met in person to discuss the venture at the Musashi restaurant in Blanchardstown.

“He had charm and he was very friendly – it felt like we were mates,” he said.

Marcus Sweeney

“He told me he was very close to (a high-profile female influencer) and she had a big social presence that he could promote this store.

“But he didn’t want to buy just this store.

“He had this idea that we could increase our brand and our value by linking other stores to this one.”

Such was the businessman’s confidence in Sweeney, he decided to set up the store with him ‘as partners’.

“I paid the €20 fee to register the business name.

“And he convinced me to buy seven or eight other domains surrounding it, because his vision was the value of these domains would increase because of the success of our store.

“I entertained him – I bought the domains.”

Marcus Sweeney with Katy French

According to garda, and at the same time the businessman was sitting down to a slap-up sushi meal in Dublin with the former Celtic Tiger socialite, Sweeney had already faced down a death threat from drug traffickers over failed investments.

He had been served with a Garda Information Message (GIM) in 2020 – a form given to people by officers when they receive credible intelligence that there is an immediate threat to their life.

Sweeney is believed to have been threatened after a money-laundering plot on behalf of criminals linked to ‘The Family’ – who are regarded as Ireland’s biggest heroin dealing mob went wrong.

Garda believe Sweeney, who is founder and director of ‘Evergreen Wealth Management, and another business associate held a meeting with some of the investors in the firm in early 2020 over the debts.

This, according to garda in their CAB case, was done to “reduce the threats to their person and property.”

The deal was only for certain investors, one of whom was believed to be convicted heroin dealer Brian Grendon.

But, Sweeney’s partner in the sex shop venture says he was blissfully unaware of any of this.

“What was going to make our shop different, was that he was waiting for €50,000 to come through from a land sale and he was going to invest €25,000 in guerrilla marketing,” he said.

​“So, this would be marketing out on the street with sexy girls publicising the products.

“We were talking in figures of €10,000 a month plus in profit.”

Asked why the venture failed, the businessman said one of the primary difficulties was in finding a payment processor for the site.

“That was the major problem. We couldn’t find anyone to take the payments.

Asked what happened with the promised €25,000 in marketing money, the businessman replied: “Nothing!

“We haven’t had a falling out or anything, I could ring him right now, but I just gave up on it.”

Details of Sweeney’s ties to organised crime were laid bare before the High Court last month with Mr Justice Alexander Owens describing the former restaurateur as “up to his oxters” in organised crime.

He made the comments when ruling on an application from the Criminal Assets Bureau (C) seeking to deem Co Meath lands linked to Sweeney’s firm EWM (Evergreen Wealth Management) Property Holdings Limited the proceeds of crime.

The bureau alleged convicted heroin dealer Brian Grendon, of Rowlagh Park, Clondalkin, Dublin, invested €20,000 in Evergreen in 2015 through his company BG Autos.

The bureau said it suspects Grendon invested significantly higher cash amounts in Evergreen. Grendon was not a party to CAB’s proceedings.

In August 2019, a garda detective was watching as Sweeney met with Grendon at the Liffey Valley Shopping Centre car park.

Immediately afterwards Sweeney met with Kuldip Singh from Birmingham and Turkish national Ali Adnan Duran, both known at that stage to be involved in the drugs trade.

When garda raided the B&B room where the pair were staying in Saggart, Co Dublin they found 14 half-kilo blocks of heroin with a street value just shy of €1m.

All three were arrested and while Sweeney was later released without charge, Singh would later be jailed for four years and Duran for nine years.

Sweeney’s partner in the failed internet sex shop start-up said he was stunned by the allegations made against the former restaurateur in court.

“It’s a bit amusing but scary also to find out you’ve been involved with someone like that.

“When I met him, I read about the stuff about him and his girlfriend (model Katy French) and what had happened during the Celtic Tiger.”

Sweeney was a celebrated socialite during the Celtic Tiger era and had a famously turbulent relationship with the model Katy French.

That relationship came to an end in 2007 when he walked into his Il Pomo D’oro restaurant on South William Street in Dublin’s city centre and found her posing in lingerie for photographs.

Katy later died tragically from a cocaine overdose.

“I gave him the benefit of the doubt,” said the businessman, “and, to be honest, all I’m trying to do is make a few quid online.

“I wasn’t looking to be best buddies,” he added.

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