Convinced he will walk free from jail in three years, Gilliganmay have plans but gardai say his life is under threat
Mick McCaffrey, Security Editor
ON THE morning of 2 May last year, four prison officers burst into a cell at the country's most secure prison and found its occupant watching a luxury flatscreen television.
The staff carried out a fingertip search of the single cell and as they left with the illegal TV the inmate cursed and threatened that he would "do" the prison officers.
He was immediately restrained and taken to a special segregation unit. As he was transferred, the other inmates on the notorious E1 landing in Portlaoise cheered for "Factory John", who shouted that he would soon have his telly back.
John Gilligan, for it was he, believes that soon he will be able to watch plasma TV in the comfort of his own home. He is planning an attempt to obtain early release from prison for a 20-year sentence for the possession of cannabis. He believes he can take advantage of new rules and be a free man in just over three years. Prison sources say, however, there is no chance the 55year-old will be allowed out of jail a day early. Gardai believe the major drug dealer will be assassinated when he is eventually set free.
The future of the man who masterminded the murder of Veronica Guerin is looking grim indeed but sources say the notoriously arrogant criminal is ignorant of this and is already planning for the next chapter of his life.
A life of crime John Gilligan was born in Ballyfermot, west Dublin, on 29 March 1952. He first came to the attention of gardai at the age of 15 when he was caught shoplifting. Over the next 20 years he amassed 15 criminal convictions for assault, burglary, attempted robbery and handling stolen property. In November 1990 Gilligan was sentenced to six years in Portlaoise after being caught robbing a factory.
After his release Gilligan, having associated with some major dealers in prison, was determined he was going to be a major gangland player but needed finance to set himself up. He organised an £800,000 loan through a Dublin car dealer, John Traynor, with notorious criminal 'The General' Martin Cahill supplying the cash.
Gilligan started off smuggling of cigarettes into the country through Dublin Port but soon turned his attention to drugs. His gang became known as the Greenmount gang after the premises in Harold's Cross where they operated from. With Brian Meehan, whom he knew from Portlaoise, as his "hands on" lieutenant Gilligan began forging relationships with international drugs traffickers in Holland and was soon importing massive quantities of cannabis which originated in Morocco.
Because he was making so much money John Gilligan needed to launder it. He 'cleaned' his drugs cash through bureaux de changes and also placed bets in bookmakers and foreign casinos. He bought the luxury Jessbrook equestrian centre in Enfield, Co Kildare, set on 100 acres of land, for around £3m. He also owned a house in Corduff, west Dublin. Gilligan was a fan of the finer things in life and splashed out on expensive cars and luxury foreign holidays. Gardai began to receive reports about his opulent lifestyle and in 1995 launched a massive investigation into the Gilligan gang, codenamed 'Pineapple'.
Crime journalist Veronica Guerin heard about the probe and began investigating his activities. The Sunday Independent journalist called to Jessbrook to try to interview the criminal but when he saw her he viciously assaulted her and told her that he would rape her young son if a word about him appeared in her paper. Guerin reported the incident to gardai and Gilligan was charged. The journalist was shot dead in June 1994 before the case came to court. Gilligan was the prime suspect in organising the hit.
Following the Guerin murder, the biggest garda investigation in the history of the state was launched at Lucan garda station under the leadership of assistant commissioner Tony Hickey.
Gilligan was acquitted of the journalist's murder but received a 28-year sentence for the importation of cannabis. This was later reduced to 20 years.
Gilligan has been imprisoned in Portlaoise since 2001 on the E1 landing which houses the country's most dangerous criminals. Gilligan acts as if he is the top dog on Portlaoise's E wing and was one of only two inmates with smuggled plasma TVs. A blind eye was turned to this for many years in order not to provoke him and risk unrest. Gilligan has a close relationship with major drug dealer Tony Felloni and associates with Limerick gang boss Christy Keane.
He was also on friendly terms with dead gangster John Daly.
The extent of his popularity was evident when, in 2004, all of the 34 prisoners on E1 signed a petition to the prison's governor requesting that Gilligan be released from solitary confinement.
Reputation of arrogance Gilligan is not popular with the prison staff and is regarded as being menacing and arrogant.
Apart from the incident last May he has had several scrapes with authorities while in jail. In 2001 he took a legal challenge against the governor of Portlaoise after he was punished for assaulting, threatening and abusing an assistant chief prison officer. He was sent to a special solitary cell for two months. His court challenge failed.
Although CAB has seized Jessbrook and his home in Corduff, gardai believe millions of euro in cash is siphoned offshore awaiting collection when he is released. It is believed he has up to 13 properties in Alicante all held under different names.
Gilligan is seeking early release under a new Department of Justice scheme that could see qualifying prisoners get one-third remission on their sentences.
Senior prison sources have told the Sunday TribuneGilligan has "absolutely no chance" of being granted early release and he will not be a free man until April 2013.
The big question is what will John Gilligan do when he finally gets released from jail? Gardai believe he will have little option but to go and live in Spain with his family. Sources say there is little doubt that once he is a free man he will be "taken out" by the next generation of drug dealers.
One senior detective who has investigated the criminal's activities in the past said: "John thinks he will get out and things will just fall back in place like the old days. What he doesn't realise is that he is a dinosaur.
"I can't imagine that some of the major new Dublin gangs run by lads in their 20s would be too happy with him trying to butt into their business. These guys would shoot him without giving it a second thought."
Gilligan says he is determined to remain in Dublin and is adamant a life on the Spanish Costa is not for him.
Speaking during a recent interview he gave in Portlaoise he said: "From my calculations I will walk free from jail in October three years from now. I have no plans to go anywhere else. I certainly won't be going to Spain, despite what some people say.
"Home for me is Corduff in Blanchardstown, and if god has his way I'm going to die there. I have no intention of running around the place just to avoid the media."
March 16, 2008