Scotland: Police target Willie O'Neil's laundering racket
The fall of one of Scotland's major organised crime bosses - police planning to grab his fortune and smash his business network
It took six years of painstaking detective work but drugs baron Willie O’Neil is finally behind bars for a £1.5million money laundering racket.
Detectives last week celebrated the fall of O’Neil, one of Scotland’s major organised crime bosses and a key police target.
As the 47-year-old heroin dealer faces a long stretch in prison, police plan to grab his dirty fortune and smash his business network.
Detective Inspector Garry Deans – head of the Scottish Crime And Drug Enforcement Agency’s money laundering unit before the elite force was merged into Police Scotland – has been at the centre of Operation Nascent which had O’Neil in the crosshairs since June 2007.
He said: “I’m absolutely delighted because it’s been a long road to get here. Willie O’Neil was one of the primary targets of the operation. Also, these types of crime – mortgage fraud and money laundering – are areas of business we want to dissuade other organised crime groups from getting involved in.”
O’Neil was last week convicted of mortgage fraud and money laundering at Glasgow Sheriff Court. The arrogant gangster was in the dock with his ex-model girlfriend Denise McNeil, 42.
The mother of his two sons was also convicted of mortgage fraud in connection with the couple’s £1.5million loch-side home.
They were joined by O’Neil’s sister Debra Hayburn, 49, who the jury also found guilty of money laundering and mortgage fraud.
Publicity-shy O’Neil tried to hide behind his girlfriend and sister when we confronted him outside court.
DI Deans said: “Generally speaking, when people go the full way to trial, I think they still believe they’ll get off. He probably didn’t expect to be convicted.”
O’Neil was arrested with £250,000 of heroin in 2001 and jailed for seven years. The following year – while inside Glenochil Prison – he secured a £78,500 mortgage for a house in Glasgow’s Ruchill.
His signed mortgage application stated he was a £32,000-a-year manager for furniture company Indowood. Bank of Scotland worker Stuart Blackburn told prosecutor Blair Speed that the loan would not have been granted had the bank known the truth.
After his release in 2007, O’Neil sold the house and transferred £107,000 proceeds to McNeil. She then made bogus financial claims to secure a £975,000 mortgage for the couple’s stunning £1.5million home – Hayhill – beside Bardowie Loch, north of Glasgow.
McNeil told the lender she earned £300,000-a-year as the owner of Bank Roll Cafe in the city’s Milton.
The 12-day trial heard that the couple were “enchanted” with Hayhill which is not far from the housing schemes where O’Neil’s drugs inflict death and misery.
In 2007, O’Neil founded Art & Soul (Glasgow) Ltd and got his claws into acclaimed artist Peter Howson who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome
The following year, McNeil posed for a local newspaper gifting a Howson painting to her sons’ primary school. The now defunct SCDEA raided Hayhill in 2009 where they seized Howson works and questioned the vulnerable artist.
Howson was on the brink of financial ruin having been ruthlessly manipulated by the mob. Detectives say O’Neil’s business empire is typical of modern, organised crime bosses.
From his Bank Roll “gang hut”, he ran a complex network comprising property, a pub chain, beer distribution firm, several hundred private hire taxis and even had his own accountancy business. His drugs money also financed a children’s nursery – another favourite front for Scotland’s crime bosses.
The muscle was supplied by his drug dealer lieutenant Sean Reilly, 47, from the Summerston area.
Weeks after the April 2007 imprisonment of Scotland’s Mr Big, Jamie “Iceman” Stevenson, O’Neil became the SCDEA’s top target. Like Stevenson, O’Neil controlled a complex web of distributors but always kept several steps away from any drugs. Also like Stevenson, the money trail put him behind bars.
O’Neil’s sister Debra, of Possil, was found guilty of mortgage fraud and money laundering.
She re-mortgaged a flat for £127,890 by lying about her income then sold it and transferred £124,755 to McNeil.
Defence lawyers argued the mortgages were typical of the banking culture prior to the 2008 financial crash.
DI Deans hopes the Crown Office will make full use of proceeds of crime laws to strip O’Neil of his vast wealth.
And as O’Neil faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced in two weeks, police will continue to target his business empire.