A CORBALLY woman who was caught selling illegal cigarettes to undercover customs officers in the casual trading area outside the Milk Market faces fines of up to €12,000 or a maximum of five years in prison, Limerick Circuit Court has heard.
Carol Collopy, 51, of Danesfort, Corbally, has admitted possession of nearly 37,000 cigarettes worth €16,634, which resulted in the loss of €10,656 to the Exchequer. Ms Collopy broke down in court this week and pleaded to Judge Carroll Moran to deal with her case sooner, after he adjourned sentencing to May 22.
“If I deal with it this afternoon you’re going to prison for two years Mrs Collopy. I don’t want to send you to prison, that’s why I need to think about it and do what’s right,” said Judge Moran.
The court heard that Ms Collopy has previous convictions for evasion of excise duty on 30,000 cigarettes at Dublin airport in January 2005, and evasion of duty on the same number at Shannon Airport on another date, as well as two litres of vodka, for which she was fined €400.
The six offences currently before the court relate to May 2, 2009, October 17 and 31, 2009, and July 10 and 24, 2010.
An officer with the Revenue Commissioners and Customs & Excise told the court that on the first occasion Ms Collopy was found selling ‘roll your own tobacco’ for customers near the Milk Market, whilst a number of their officers were carrying out a surveillance of the marketplace.
The defendant sold an undercover officer 200 Mayfair cigarettes, and a further 4,000 unstamped cigarettes were then found in her car.
A warrant was obtained to search her house and Ms Collopy asked a friend to watch her stall while she went with them.
Meanwhile, two officers were monitoring her residence and observed a man leaving her house with two large bags.
In total, 36,400 cigarettes were seized on that day, with a value of €15,056 according to staff in the Central Statistics Office. The excise duty at risk was €9,380.
On October 17, 2009, an undercover officer again purchased 200 Gold Classic cigarettes from her stall for €50, and in a follow-up search a few days later 1.28kg of unstamped Turner tobacco was found in the stall and seized.
The value on that occasion amount to €1422, with €1178 in excise lost.
In July 2010, an undercover officer again purchased 200 John Player Blue cigarettes with a counterfeit stamp from her, which were located in a box between her van and another vehicle. The cigarettes were surrounded by cream crackers and she told the officer the price was for the crackers, and not the cigarettes, and that she would be taking orders in future. A further 180 cigarettes were found in a Doritos box at the side of her van,
“She kept doing it on a small scale, and this puts legitimate dealers at a disadvantage,” said State prosecutor John O’Sullivan, BL.
Her defence, Michael Collins, BL, said his client is a single parent and has divorced from her former husband, “whose name is still attached to her.”
She has sole custody of their daughter and has recently suffered health concerns, which are continually being monitored.
Mr Collins said she pleaded guilty at an early stage, and while she has similar convictions, he pointed out to the court that they were dealt with a small fine.
“Her priorities in life have changed completely and I would ask the court to give her a chance to prove her bona fides in that regard,” he said. “If you give her a chance, she won’t be seen in this court or another again.”
Judge Moran said this is a “particularly difficult case” and he adjourned sentencing until Tuesday week.