05 Oct 2022

Offaly man hid large quantity of cocaine because he was terrified of drugs gang

TULLAMORE Circuit Court heard a local man hid €27,300 worth of cocaine under his couch because he had been put under intense pressure to do so.

Joe Sales, 40, said he feared for his own life and that of his family so he agreed to store 390.2g of the drug at his home, 62 Thornsberry Estate, Tullamore.

Having possession of that amount of cocaine for supply to others carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years but the penalty can be lowered in certain circumstances.

Judge Keenan Johnson imposed a six-year suspended sentence on Mr Sales after hearing how he came to have the drug and being told of his personal situation and the good work he did in the community.

Detective Garda Rory Heffernan told a sentencing hearing that gardai had been carrying out surveillance in Tullamore as part of their drugs investigations and on March 15 last year they obtained a search warrant for Mr Sales' address.

They found the cocaine in a black bag, along with a number of resealable bags, weighing scales and a mobile phone.

In an initial interview, Mr Sales said he had got himself into a rut and owed money and was asked to hold the bag and “like a' eejit” brought it in.

He told gardai he was terrified to say who gave the drugs to him and could not do so for his own safety.

A single man, he later told gardai that he had split up with his long-term girlfriend the previous June and had been depressed, a situation which was exacerbated by the death of a best friend.

Furthermore, his mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and he was the main carer for both his parents.

He was on disability himself and he told gardai he did not get any money for holding the drugs.

“It was a mistake. I'll never do it again,” he said when questioned.

Mr Sales said he was in such fear that he thought about ending his life.

Though he told gardai at first that he did not take drugs himself, he later admitted he had been addicted and fell into debt and had to allow his house to be used for storage.

The cocaine was only there a few days before the gardai found it, the court heard.

Det Garda Heffernan said Mr Sales had 19 previous convictions, none of which were for drugs offences and the last one was committed in 2003.

Det Garda Heffernan agreed with Colm Smith, SC, defending, that Mr Sales would have been easily led and would be the type of person “ruthless people” involved in drug crime would single out.

The garda witness also agreed the accused was very helpful with his parents' medication, assisted with groceries and pensions for people in his area and was a “tower of strength” according to one 70-year-old female neighbour.

In his own evidence, Mr Sales admitted he had been taking drugs for a couple of years after falling into a dark hole when his relationship of 13 years ended.

He was now doing a healthcare assistant course and was trying to turn his life around and make his mother and father proud.

A testimonial from a local shopkeeper who described Mr Sales as a valued customer and someone who helped neighbours during the Covid pandemic was handed into the court, as was another from a local pharmacy.

Mr Sales said his mental health had been affected terribly because of worry and he had been threatened daily by individuals who would pull up in cars outside his house.

The accused pleaded with the judge not to jail him, saying he was now off drugs.

“I'll never be in trouble ever, ever again,” he said.

Judge Johnson said he accepted the accused was holding the drugs under duress and it was a case that people at the lowest end of the rung of the drugs business were the ones who come before the courts while the masterminds evade conviction by fear and aggression.

He said the masterminds are really the lowest of the low and there needed to be a coordinated approach to dealing with the problem.

He said a suspended sentence would be appropriate in the case of Mr Sales, a man who had “a lot going for him”.

A community service order would also form part of the sentence, Judge Johnson ruled.

A plea of guilty had previously been entered for possession of the drug for sale or supply and last week another plea was entered by Mr Sales to possession of cocaine. Judge Johnson said he was satisfied there were exceptional circumstances which meant he would not have to impose the minimum 10-year sentence for having drugs worth more than €13,000 for sale or supply.

The six-year sentence was suspended for 10 years on condition Mr Sales enter a bond to keep the peace and submit to the supervision of the probation service for 18 months and abstain from all illicit substances. He ordered Mr Sales to complete 240 hours of community service, if assessed suitable, in lieu of a three-year sentence for possessing cocaine.

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