Surveillance operation thwarts phone thief’s escape

A Garda surveillance operation, set up two years ago to target the theft of mobile phones from unsuspecting pub patrons in the city by Dublin-based criminals, has paid dividends.

Sergeant Fergus Gaughan gave evidence at Galway District Court that he was involved in the surveillance operation, set up at the time to target those involved in a spate of mobile phone thefts from people socialising in the city centre.

He said he kept a car, which was parked at Woodquay on October 4, 2015, under surveillance for a number of hours and observed a man return to it at 3.40am.

He saw the man rummage around in the back seat of the car for a while before he drove off.

Sgt Gaughan said that with the assistance of other colleagues involved in the Garda operation, he followed and stopped the car at Bother na dTreabh.

A subsequent search revealed two high-end phones concealed under the floor covering of the car under the rear seat.

Darius Rostas (23), 138 Carrigwood Estate, Firhouse, Dublin 24, was subsequently arrested and charged with handling a €600 iphone 6 and a €400 Samsung Galaxy S4, knowing they were stolen.

Sgt. Gaughan said both phones were reported stolen by their owners shortly afterwards.

He said there had been some communication via text between the accused on his own HTC phone and the owner of one of the stolen phones about recompense for the return of the phone before he took possession of it.

Judge Fahy noted Rostas had been brought before a special court sitting later on October 4 where he had been refused bail, but he had subsequently secured bail in the High Court in Dublin.

Sgt Philpott said Rostas had 22 previous convictions, which included 16 for thefts. He said he had received a five-month prison sentence in Dublin last year for possession of stolen property and had received suspended sentences for other thefts in 2013.

A barrister, who represented Rostas under the Free Legal Aid Scheme, told the court his client lived in Tallaght and his wife was expecting their first baby in five months’ time.

He said Rostas was in receipt of €100 a week in Job Seeker’s Allowances and he worked part-time as a pizza delivery man.

Judge Fahy said the court had to consider disqualifying Rostas from driving as he had used his car to travel to Galway to commit a crime here.

Judge Fahy noted the phones were recovered due to the good work of Sgt Gaughan and the other Gardaí involved in the surveillance operation and she noted from the court file that Rostas had taken 15 bench warrants in the past.

“He was probably in collusion with others at time of this offence,”   the judge observed.

She sentenced Rostas to six months in prison for handling the stolen iphone 6 and she disqualified him from driving for two years.

She imposed a concurrent three-month sentence for the theft of the second phone and she suspended both sentences for two years on condition Rostas be of good behaviour and not reoffend for the next two years and stay away from Galway city and county for the next two years also.

Leave to appeal the judge’s orders were granted.

Rostas smiled broadly in obvious relief when he heard the prison sentences were being suspended.  He thanked Judge Fahy a number of times and then shook hands enthusiastically with his barrister and with Sgt. Gaughan.

He agreed to pay €150 witnesses’ expenses to one of the victims – a student – whose phone had been taken that night, as she had come to court on three different occasions previously to give evidence should Rostas not plead guilty to the charges.

Mrs Rostas took a wad of cash from her pocket and handed over three €50 notes to Sgt. Philpott, which he handed to the student.