TWO Bulgarian women who admitted stealing a purse containing €200 in cash from an elderly woman at a department store in the city centre were each jailed when they appeared before Limerick Court this week.
Elena Kostandinova, aged 27, and Penka Georgieva, aged 22, who both have addresses in the town of Pavlikeni were arrested on Monday afternoon after gardai were called to the Penneys store on O’Connell Street.
Sergeant Donal Cronin said security staff at Penneys had raised the alarm after they observed the woman acting suspiciously.
He said they were seen moving around the store “in close proximity” to the elderly victim and that CCTV footage showed one of the taking a purse from the victim’s handbag.
The second woman, he said, provided “cover” in an attempt to conceal the crime.
The lady’s purse contained several items including bank cards and €200 in cash but only €160 was recovered despite the quick response of security staff and gardai.
With the assistance of an interpreter, solicitor Sarah Ryan told the court her clients had arrived in Ireland in recent days and intended returning home in the near future.
Ms Ryan conceded it was a “low and mean type of offence” and she told the court her clients were “stuck for money on the day”.
She said Ms Kostandinova works as a disc jockey in Bulgaria and that Ms Georgieva receives around €30 a week in social welfare benefits.
Judge Eugene O’Kelly was told the defendants have both come to the attention of law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions across Europe and that they have “profiles on Europol”.
Sgt Cronin said Ms Georgieva is banned from entering Sweden and Denmark and that she has come to “adverse notice” in a number of other countries including Norway and Germany.
Ms Kostandinova, he told the court, has a number of previous convictions relating to theft offences, which happened in Dublin and in Britain.
“This is a highly skilled and organised enterprise by these individuals who are highly proficient sneak thieves actively committing crime throughout Europe”, he said adding that neither of the defendants have an address in Ireland.
Imposing sentence, Judge Eugene O’Kelly rejected claims that the woman had travelled to Limerick in order to find employment and he said it was clear they were acting together in what he described as a joint enterprise.
“This is an organised enterprise where the their sole purpose is to commit offences. They knew exactly what they were doing,” he said.
Noting that that €40 of the stolen money was not recovered by gardai, the judge sentenced Ms Kostandinova to five months imprisonment.
He imposed a four month prison sentence on Ms Georgieva.
Leave to appeal the severity of the sentences was granted.