Published on February 4th, 2010 | by Eamon Dillon


Irish travellers from Rathkeale hit Italian and French householders in tarmac scam

This is how Ireland’s multi-millionaire traveller traders really make their money. The infamous wheeler-dealers have cut a swathe through continental Europe where they have made millions fleecing unsuspecting property owners. Over 20 tarmacadam crews are currently working in northern Italy making a staggering €2 million a week. The asfaltari Irlandese operate in a hit-and-run style making it hard for police to catch them if complaints are made by a disgruntled customer. Each crew boss can take in €20,000 a day and as much as €120,000 on a good day, all while keeping under the radar of local cops.
This week the Sunday World picked up the trail of one Rathkeale traveller crew on the Italian Job. They were operating in and around the historic town of Bergamo, just under an hour’s drive from Milan and close to the foothills of the Alps. Business was drummed up by going door-to-door offering to carry out tarmac work at bargain basement prices. Language is no barrier for the Rathkeale operators who throw cash at obstacles but are also quick to pick up basic language skills in any country where they work. The picturesque town of Bergamo features many stunning hillside properties with long unpaved driveways, making perfect pickings for the unscrupulous traders. One man who hired the crew last Monday told the Sunday World told how the travellers’ front man explained they had tarmac left over from a motorway job they had being doing. The ploy is well-worn spiel used by the Rathkealers in every country they visit, including in Ireland.
Speaking through our interpreter the Italian householder explained how he had paid €7,000 for the work which was done in just four hours. “At first they seemed pretty good but then things started to go a bit wrong. I began to think it was strange to do this kind of work in winter,” he said.

The unfortunate householder said because they were Irish he felt the work crew could be trusted. He said the work seemed to be of a good standard and he paid up, although he admitted that he felt he was overcharged after initially agreeing a price of €20 per metre. “When they finished they wanted cash. They were very insistent they wanted cash but in they end they accepted two cheques,” he said. Both cheques were drawn down by the travellers by the following day. The customer said the crew had no mobile phone number or any kind of business card. He recognised Rathkealer, Johnny ‘Bottles’ Sheridan from photographs as being among the group of 13 workers. He explained how the job was carried out non-stop with one half resting while the others continued laying and rolling the tarmac. Although the customer said he was happy with the job, it was obvious it was not sealed properly. In their haste to get the job done, the crew left uneven sections and partially covered drain covers. Cement dust was spread over some sections in a bid to disguise gaps and shoddy work. It was one of four jobs carried out by his crew that day for which they charged between €4,000 and €7,500.

Johnny ‘Bottles’ Sheridan with his crew of Irish and Polish workers and his three sons also worked around Milan and the surrounding area last summer. Stories of the road crews’ exploits were swapped when the millionaire traveller-traders gathered in the Limerick town of Rathkeale this Christmas. The front man of the operation is Johnny Bottles’ son Patrick, known as Paper Face who is skilled at finding their customers, according to a Sunday World source in Limerick. Also part of the crew are his two sons Shane and teenager Johnny junior who operate three tarmac trucks and transport their workers in the back of a Ford Transit. Despite the 40C heat of summer Bottles’ workers were praised for their fast work by their Italian customers who paid in and cash and gave the labourers gifts of beer and whiskey. Little did the customers know that the crews work fast so they can get going before any upset punters can catch up with them. Within days the ‘tarmac’ cover dries out leaving behind nothing but a layer of raked stones.

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About the Author

Journalist Eamon Dillon writes about crime, con-artists, fraud and trafficking.

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