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Campaign to warn young people of ‘money mule’ risks

Gardaí in Co Kerry have established an education campaign for schools and colleges, after over 30 teenagers and young people there were prosecuted for laundering a total of more than €1 million in just 18 months.

Some of the money was recovered, but much of it was not.

Sean, not his real name, is in his 20s and from Tralee.

He agreed to be interviewed by RTÉ News on condition of anonymity.

He said he wanted to help others avoid what he had endured since he allowed his bank accounts to be used to launder more than €30,000.

Sean recalls how he got involved.

“I first started this when I was 18/19 years old,” he said. “It was a friend: he came to me and told me: ‘Look, all you have to do is pass your bank card over and I’ll come back with a few hundred euros for you.'”

Sean questioned the risks and asked if there would be consequences, but he said he was told there would not be and he was pointed to others who had done the same before him.

‘Sean’ was one of 30 young people prosecuted in relation to investigations in Kerry

“I thought about the consequences and I asked about the consequences,” Sean said. “He said the worst thing that will happen is your bank [account] will get shut down and there will be no more about it.”

Sean agreed and handed over his bank account details. More than €30,000 was lodged to his accounts and quickly withdrawn. He was paid a fraction of that, around €300.

He thought no more until there was a knock on the door several months later.

Detectives investigating a whole series of suspicious transactions – involving dozens of young people and teenagers in the Tralee area – wanted to talk to Sean.

He was arrested.

“I was locked in a cell for a few hours and I kind of thought, ‘oh my God, what have I done,'” Sean said. “I felt disappointed, embarrassed, kind of shamed you could say.”

“Of course, when the guards came knocking on the door my parents are thinking what’s going on, and then you have to tell them what happened and you feel so disappointed in yourself.”

Sean is one of more than 30 young people who have been prosecuted in the district court and in the circuit criminal court in Tralee.

In his case, because of his previous clean record, the judge applied the Probation Act. He had to pay €1,000 and is doing community service in lieu of a conviction.

Sean said he continues to feel shame and he wants to use his experience to ensure other young people do not do what he did.

“You just feel so disappointed in yourself,” he said. “My message to people would be: never, ever give your bank details to anybody, including friends or close friends – it’s the wisest choice.”

Ernie Henderson says the garda operation is investigating the laundering of €1.3m

Sean was prosecuted after gardaí in Co Kerry set up Operation Mullet and discovered dozens of young people there had been used as ‘money mules’ to launder hundreds of thousands of euro.

Detective Sergeant Ernie Henderson of the Divisional Crime Unit in Kerry continues to work on Operation Mullet.

The numbers involved in Tralee, a town with a population of just over 25,000 people, are quite staggering.

“There was over 60 involved in it, 62 in total, with over 50 of them – 50 or 51 – from Tralee,” he said. “In total, for Operation Mullet, it stands at €1.3 million in laundered funds.”

Gardaí, in conjunction with Chapter 23 credit unions in Kerry, have now developed an education programme and are visiting schools and colleges throughout the county with a message for young people.

“The important message is about the dangers and consequences of becoming a money mule,” Crime Prevention Officer, Sergeant Mike Quirke, told RTÉ News. “We want to emphasise to the students that with a financial account comes responsibility and that they are responsible for their online accounts.

“The main message we are telling them in the classrooms is that they should never share their login details to any online accounts with any person, for any reason.”

Sergeant Mike Quirke is involved in delivering the educational campaign to students in Kerry

The garda investigation has now stepped up a level.

The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau is involved and the investigation has moved beyond the borders of Kerry to those who are involved at a more senior level.

Detectives are using evidence gathered by gardaí in Kerry to pursue people they believe are behind this and who they believe are members of a transnational organised crime group.

Some have already been arrested and questioned.

Gardaí say further developments are expected.

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