A 25-year-old award winning student was jailed for two years at Letterkenny Circuit Court this week in what is believed to be the first large scale fuel laundering case of its kind in the county.
Handing down the two year sentence to Roddy Logan from Toomebridge in Co. Antrim, Judge John O’Hagan said that this criminal activity left a huge hidden cost to the people of the State. These costs include the environmental clean-up operations required to remove the toxic by-product of laundered fuel as well as the many cars that have been seriously damaged by this “very destructive” fuel.
Logan was part of a criminal gang which was caught operating the plant in Castlefin on July 6th, 2011.
The gang was making 50c profit per litre and the operation near Castlefin, less than a mile to the border, netted them 30,000 euro per week.
Revenue officer Bernadette Murray told the court that revenue officers and Gardai found various apparatus including 12,000 litres of mineral oil, hosing, upright cylinders, pumps and cat litter.
A number of men found at the plant escaped across fields and have not been before the courts but Logan was arrested at the scene.
Logan pleaded guilty to the charge of knowingly removing a mineral oil prescribed marker when he appeared at court on Tuesday.
The court was told that such illegal diesel operations were costing the State a huge amount of revenue.
Gangs who dumped the toxic sludge, left behind from illegal diesel plants, cost the Government 3.4m euro between 2003 and 2011, as it has to be disposed of in Germany.
The court also heard how such illegal diesel had a long-term damaging effect on thousands of cars which used the diesel each year.
Logan, who had studied engineering at University of Ulster, claimed when arrested he was only being paid 30 euro a day to drive a lorry to the plant and was “intimidated” to keep attending the site.
Defence barrister, Damien Crawford BL, said his client had an excellent educational record and currently worked in a restaurant in Toomebridge.
Prosecution barrister, Patrician McLaughlin BL said maximum sentence for the crime was five years in prison while the maximum fine was 126,970 euro.
Judge O’Hagan compared illegal diesel plants to “grow houses” which were cultivating cannabis across the country.
He said it was often the case that many “gardeners” were looking after the plants but the ‘Mr Bigs’ were never caught.
“This operation is carried on by serious criminals who are in for the quick buck and are depriving revenue of any taxes they might raise from diesel.
“People involved in this operation are unscrupulous, although they remove dye, the acids remain in the by-product and this does untold damage to people’s engines. I have seen with my own eyes the damages it does to people’s engines,” said Judge O’Hagan.
He added that Logan was an intelligent man who knew exactly what he was doing at the illegal plant and was caught “red handed”.
He said if he had pleaded not guilty he would have given him the maximum penalty of five years in prison and had even considered giving him more than the two years sentence he was proposing.
“I believe this is such a serious offence that a message has to be sent out that it is a crime that will attract a custodial sentence,” he said.