'Gofers' jailed for helping illegal migrants enter the State
Two men have been jailed for their roles within a larger criminal organisation which was providing people with false documentation in order to travel to the state.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard Ethan Zeitman (46) and Levani Shavgulidze (24) were “gofers” at the bottom of the organisation which had a role in the number of their fellow Georgian nationals illegally arriving to Ireland “skyrocketing” between 2017 and 2020.
Zeitman, of Mullach Glas Crescent, Monaghan, pleaded guilty to money laundering, possession of fraudulent documentation and organising or facilitating the entry into the State of an illegal immigrant or person intending to seek asylum on dates between 2017 and 2019.
Zeitman, who has 20 previous convictions, has been in custody since November 2020.
Shavgulidze, of North Circular Road, Dublin 7, pleaded guilty to stealing Covid 19 pandemic unemployment payment, money laundering, possession of fraudulent documentation and organising or facilitating the entry into the State of an illegal immigrant or person intending to seek asylum.
Shavgulidze’s offending occurred between 2018 and 2020. He has been in custody since December 2020.
Judge Martin Nolan said it was clear the men were part of an organisation facilitating mainly Georgian nationals to travel to other countries. He noted evidence this had led to a huge increase of Georgian nationals travelling to this country.
He said the men were probably “gofers” used to post documents, but still had their roles to play and were an integral part of the organisation and no doubt rewarded by money or payments in kind.
Judge Nolan noted Zeitman became involved to pay for drugs, but was now doing well in custody and drug free. He said Shavgulidze, who has no previous convictions, also seemed not to have profited too greatly, but was involved and deserved a prison sentence.
He also took into account the men were foreign nationals and imposed a sentence of two years imprisonment on both men.
Sgt Anthony Collins of the Garda National Immigration Bureau outlined to Grainne O’Neill BL, prosecuting, that the investigation began in 2018 as a result of a referral from international colleagues and continues today.
He said the investigation initially focused on two individuals, not the accused men, involved in supplying false identification documents for customers outside the state using couriers and An Post.
Sgt Collins said the gardai liaised with other countries, companies, banks, delivery agencies and government departments to gather data and prepare a crime process flow chart.
He outlined that an end user seeking to travel but who is unable to because of visa requirements would make contact with a members of the organisation by text, whatsapp or facebook messenger and they would be sent a price list.
The user would nominate a document and details and payment was taken, generally by money transfer. The documents were produced and then sent by post or courier. The documents were used for travel, work and in some cases to travel to Ireland.
The court heard that sometimes the users would be assisted on their arrival to Ireland.
Sgt Collins agreed with defence counsel that Zeitman and Shavgulidze were at the bottom of the organistaion, did not produce the documents and were arranged in distributing the documents.
He said Shavgulidze appeared to be involved in sending the documents out of the state through the GPO in Dublin on behalf of another individual in the organisation.
Sgt Collins said Shavgulidze had also fraudulently claimed PUP to the value of €5,950 under his own name and an under an alias using fraudulent documentation.
Zeitman came to garda attention while they were watching another co-accused who was sending documentation out off the state at the GPO. Gardai later seized the packages, containing 15 false documents, and his DNA was found on some items.
Sgt Collins said Zeitman was arrested in November 2020 and made admissions as to his role.
The court heard three other individuals have been sentenced for their roles in the organisation receiving sentences of four years, three years and a three year suspended sentence.
Michael Bowman SC, defending Zeitman, said his client had come to Ireland in 2011 and was introduced to heroin while in asylum accommodation. He said he was driven into this offending by his addiction and was paid in drugs.
He said Zeitman’s involvement in the offending had ended over a year before his arrest when he became clean of drugs as he served a sentence for another offence. He said he is doing well in custody and hopes to leave the country on release.
Mr Bowman asked the court to take into account his client's co-operation, guilty plea and immediate admissions.
Elis Brennan SC, defending Shavgulidze, said he became involved in this offending because of people known to him and fell into a situation where he was led astray. She submitted he had just been a foot soldier in this extremely sophisticated operation and was essentially used.
She said he was very contrite and remorseful and had co-operated as much as he could. She submitted he was naive and had not profited from this operation at all.
Ms Brennan said he was doing well in prison and hoped to make a life for himself afterwards.