Gambling Debt to ‘Paramilitary’ Group Forces Irish Taxi Driver to Steal

Posted on: March 15, 2022, 06:40h. 

Last updated on: March 15, 2022, 05:36h.

A Belfast taxi driver is heading to jail for stealing from his passengers. Gareth Taggart claims he had no choice, as a “paramilitary” loansharking group forced his hand to cover his outstanding gambling debt.

Irish Taxis
Irish taxi drivers wait in line for new passengers. One will spend several months behind bars for stealing from his fares. (Image: The Times)

Getting drunk in Ireland came with an additional cost for those who traveled in Gareth Taggart’s taxi. He is now on his way to prison for “outrageous fraud,” now that a court judge has determined an adequate punishment.

From February 2018 to July 2019, according to the Belfast Telegraph, Taggart embarked on a mission to steal bank card data from drunken passengers who climbed into his taxi. When inputting the card’s secret four-digit code, he memorized the number. Taggart managed to keep the cards and then used them to withdraw cash at ATMs.

Somehow, either because he had an extremely friendly face or the passengers were too drunk to know what was happening, Taggart kept up the charade. He pulled it off 60 times against 50 passengers and pocketed almost £26,800 (US$34,907).

At the time, per his account, Taggart had an unpaid debt with a “paramilitary” loansharking group. In order to settle his debt without losing any limbs, he had to skim the cards and pilfer the bank accounts, per the group’s orders. In some instances, he simply handed over the cards to someone in the group to carry out the theft.

Caught in the Act

Ultimately, one of the passengers was sober enough to call out the misguided taxi driver. In July 2019, police arrested him as they built their case. However, according to Taggart, he had no choice. He was nothing more than an unwilling pawn in a large criminal enterprise.

Initially, Taggart wasn’t implicated as locals began finding money missing from their bank accounts. An investigation began, and separately, the victims admitted that all they could remember was being out on the town, enjoying a few pints. Some, however, became so inebriated that they couldn’t explain how they returned home.

Eventually, the investigation turned to the taxi driver. He was consistently working when the incidents happened and was caught red-handed.

On July 14, 2019, police caught up with him at one of the ATMs where illegal withdrawals were recorded. On him, they found four stolen bank cards and cash.

Some of the banks have stepped up and reimbursed their customers for their losses. Others, however, didn’t receive the same treatment, and could only write off the experience as a costly night out drinking.

Judge Not Swayed

In addition to seeking leniency because he didn’t want to participate, Taggart tried to use the gambling victim card. His lawyer hoped that his outstanding debt to the loan sharks, to which he reportedly still owes £8,000 (US$10,420), the fact that he “lost everything,” and the lack of a criminal record would sway the court.

Judge Richard Greene QC of the Belfast Crown Court didn’t buy the request for pity. He asserted that Taggart took part willingly, taking advantage of “intoxicated and vulnerable” individuals who were easy prey.

Greene added that Taggart had abused his position of trust and “fleeced” his passengers. Therefore, a prison sentence was required. He will spend seven months locked up and seven months on probation following his release.