A Dublin man was sentenced to five years in prison for membership of an unlawful organization in connection with an Alphabay explosives case. Both of his co-defendants, at an earlier court appearance, were found not guilty of the same charge and ultimately left the courtroom as free men.
Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy of the Special Criminal Court sentenced Jonathan Hawthorn, 45, to five years in prison for membership of an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army. At a hearing in July 2018, a three-judge court found Hawthorn guilty of Irish Republican Army membership. The same court allowed his co-defendants—James Geraghty, 61, and Donal O’Ceallaigh, 33—to leave the courtroom without any conviction, even though the court had acknowledged that both men had a role in the purchase and importation of plastic explosives from the United States.
The case began in 2016 after the Federal Bureau of Investigation received a message from a customer on Alphabay who had been inquiring about listings for Semtex. The buyer, an FBI agent told law enforcement in Ireland, had been using an account under the handle “MeatCleaver” to contact a weapons and explosives vendor account on the Alphabay darkweb marketplace. The vendor account, as “MeatCleaver” later learned, served as a honeypot for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They used the account to catch potentially dangerous offenders who used Alphabay in search of firearms and various explosive devices. Even back then, many people knew that the majority of the easily accessible gun dealers on the darkweb were actually law enforcement agents hiding behind seized or original accounts.
After reaching a deal with the undercover FBI Special Agent, “MeatCleaver” asked that the Special Agent ship the package to “Mr Gerathy” at an address that belonged to Geraghty in Dolphin’s Barn. The FBI notified law enforcement in Ireland and gave them time to prepare a case against the people who had been living at the house or associating with Geraghty. They set up surveillance from nearby vantage points and spotted all three men at various times inside of Geraghty’s house. Although only Geraghty lived at the Dolphin’s Barn address, the other men spent a significant amount of time at the house and with Geraghty outside the house as well.
“MeatCleaver,” according to information provided by the FBI, had ordered the plastic explosive Semtex, a handgun, an F-1 Soviet fragmentation grenade, and 100 rounds of ammunition. The buyer had also asked about obtaining some explosives the vendor account had not advertised on the Alphabay vendor profile. The Special Agent running the account told the unsuspecting buyer that he had shipped the products in a package with toys for children. This information, along with everything else the undercover agent told “MeatCleaver,” was forwarded to law enforcement in Ireland.
Special units of law enforcement in Dublin prepared for the arrival of the dummy package and then opened it and checked if the package had anything else they needed to remove it if it lacked anything they could add. They then prepared a controlled delivery with the shipping service DHL and took the package to Geraghty’s house. Law enforcement officers placed themselves in strategic positions where they could photograph the person who received the package and then see through the windows to watch one of the individuals inside the house open the package.
When law enforcement officers delivered the package, Hawthorn answered the door and signed for the package. A opened it a few minutes later. O’Ceallaigh and Geraghty were both present at the time and both men saw Hawthorn receive the package and open it. Hawthorn then removed the fake explosives, ammunition, and firearm. He placed them in a bag and then left the house. Later that day, the police arrested all three men outside a hospital. Hawthorn had the bag on his person that contained the fake explosives and the pistol. Being caught with the weapons helped in his conviction, but the court heard that Hawthorn’s refusal to answer questions should be considered during judgement. Both O’Ceallaigh and Geraghty worked with the court and answered questions from authorities throughout the ordeal.
Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy sentenced Hawthorn to five years in prison. She considered sentencing him to the maximum sentence allowed but decided against it as she knew it would have a detrimental impact on his family.