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Couple lived millionaire lifestyle with trips to Dubai, Mexico, Las Vegas and Madrid with proceeds of crime
A husband and wife who were dubbed ‘Mr and Mrs Bling’ after they pleaded guilty to drug and proceeds-of-crime offences are close associates of notorious Sligo mob boss Barry Young.
Derry couple Patrick and Misha O’Connor splurged an incredible €450k on Rolex watches and jewellery and almost €150k on holidays to Dubai, Mexico, Las Vegas and Madrid.
O’Connor was nabbed through the massive Encrochat hack investigation in 2020 and communications linked him to seizures made in 2016 and 2017 and to a handle known as ‘Real Feet.’
The couple enjoyed an extraordinary high-end lifestyle from the profits of O’Connor’s drug dealing network and even spent €180k fitting a special hot tub in their home. Each amassed tens of thousands in cash reserves in their banks.
O’Connor admitted that he was only involved in drug dealing for the money and had no issues with addiction, after he pleaded guilty to a string of drug dealing and proceeds-of-crime charges.
The court also heard his wife Misha ran a hairdressing company, which was a dream of hers since she was young, and only escaped a prison term because she was the carer for the couple’s children.
O’Connor was nabbed with an Encrochat phone using the alias ‘Real Feet’ and discussed drug shipments from Birmingham, Liverpool and Dundalk.
He was linked to the phone thanks to images he sent of two cars belonging to him which had been seized and a picture of a Rolex Daytona watch which he said was also taken by police.
A court heard how O’Connor and others arranged deals of cocaine and cannabis and the delivery of vacuum-packed herbal ‘pollen’ to Northern Ireland on the phones and that he communicated with other handles known as ‘Padre Pio’ and ‘Slurry Pump’.
And now the Sunday World can reveal O’Connor had worked with Sligo criminal Barry Young for years and was part of his supply chain into the north west.
Young pleaded guilty last week to directing a criminal organisation and is awaiting sentencing.
Part of the evidence against him relates to 16,000 WhatsApp messages, but it is not known if any details were garnered from Encrochat as Garda management chose not to act on the intelligence from the French and Dutch hack of the service which has resulted in thousands of arrests and convictions across Europe.
In court in Derry this week, O’Connor was described as the leader of an organised crime gang supplying cocaine and cannabis in the north-west and was jailed for 11 years after pleading guilty to string of charges.
O’Connor (52) from the Old Fort in Strathfoyle, Derry, admitted that he had ‘converted criminal property’ in the sum of £405,211 by purchasing Rolex watches and jewellery, £97.927 on foreign holiday travel from an agency in Armagh and a further sum of £31,622 in a travel agent in Derry.
He admitted being involved in a series of drug transactions, including one in 2017 where a car was stopped with cocaine valued at £700,000 (€792,000).
His wife Misha (41) with an address in Stoneypath in Derry, admitted a series of offences linked to the proceed of crime. Judge Philip Banington said the pair ‘quite clearly lived a lifestyle that could not possibly have been funded by legitimate sources of income.’
On five occasions, police had stopped vehicles carrying drugs and money in 2016 and 2017. Later, the Encrochat phone hack linked O’Connor to other drug deals and money transfers being arranged between March and June of 2020.
Two men who formed part of O’Connor’s network, Mark Kelly (47), from Armagh, and Barry Fox (42), from Dungannon, admitted involvement in an exchange of cash and cannabis in Derry after phones linked them to the incident.
Benjamin Quinn (32), from Lifford in Donegal, admitted his involvement in the cocaine seizure after phones connected him to O’Connor. Two other men, Kevin Cassidy (47) and Blaine Curtis (35) also pleaded to drug charges.
Cash seizures of £103,980 and £72,480 found in a house in Armagh were also linked to O’Connor.
Justice Banington described the Encrochat hack as being conducted by French and Dutch police and said the system was ‘designed for and used by criminals.’
O’Connor was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years for the first series of offences and three-and-a-half years consecutive for the second set – making a total of 11 years.
Misha O’Connor was sentenced to two years, suspended for three years, Kelly was given a three-year sentence, suspended for four years, Curtis and Fox were sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years. Quinn was given a two-year sentence, suspended for two years and Cassidy, who was described as being at ‘the bottom of the ladder’, was given a 12 month sentence, suspended for 2 years.
The case is the first conviction related to the Encrochat hack in Northern Ireland. Another man has pleaded not guilty to separate charges. The Judge said the information had been transferred to the PSNI via Europol and the UK’s National Crime Agency.
“The handsets were not sold to retail and had a limited function. They cost approximately £500 and were used with unregulated sim cards, which allowed roaming. Another package could cost £1,200, with six months data contact. They had the appearance of a normal phone but users required a password and could use encrypted voice calls or SMS.
In order to contact other users the sender needed to know the recipient’s name, and the phones had an ability to wipe date and delete all communications.
“What was significant during the Encrochat investigation was that the encrypted devices were used by criminals and there was no evidence whatsoever that they were used by innocent people.
“In June 2020, Encrochat became aware of the hack and issued a warning message to their users. They told all users to power off and dispose of their devices. As a result very few handsets were discovered.