Horse trainer turned to crime to feed drug habit after losing job and accommodation during Covid, court hears

Ion Barbolescu (34) jailed for breaking into CEX stores, stealing mobile phones and laptops

A horse trainer who worked with some of the country’s top yards has been jailed for two and a half years after he developed a drug habit and turned to theft when he lost his job and his accommodation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Romanian Ion Barbolescu (34) pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to two counts of burglary where he stole over €30,000 worth of electronic equipment from the CEX Store on the Grand Parade in Cork on January 11th, 2022 and again on May 8th, 2022.

Garda Paul Dromey told the court how an intruder broke into the property through a hole in the roof in the early hours of January 11th, 2022, and stole €17,000 worth of mobile phones and laptops and again on May 8th when he broke in through a wall and stole €14,000 worth of goods.

Garda Dromey said gardaí harvested CCTV footage and identified the same suspect for both break-ins so he began checking and discovered that there had been five other similar break-ins at other CEX stores – two in a CEX store in Dublin, two at a CEX store in Clare and one at a CEX store in Mayo.


A surveillance operation was put in place and Barbolescu was arrested in relation to offences in Clare and interviewed by Cork gardaí on August 23rd, 2023. He confessed to the Cork burglaries and, after he was charged with the Cork offences, he entered a signed plea of guilty on December 19th, 2023.

Cross-examined by defence barrister, Mahon Corkery, Garda Dromey accepted that Barbolescu had waited until the early hours of the morning on each occasion when the CEX stores were empty so that he wouldn’t meet and traumatise staff.

He also accepted that Barbolscue had notified prison authorities in Limerick that he wanted to meet gardaí from Cork to confess to both Cork crimes, said Garda Dromey who confirmed that the accused had a total of 17 previous convictions, including five for burglary.

Pleading for leniency, Mr Corkery, for the defence, pointed out that his client had co-operated with gardaí and had made full admissions at interview, and he had spared the state the expense of having to go to trial by entering a signed plea of guilty at an early stage.

He said that Barbolescu was a qualified horse trainer in his native Romania and had come to Ireland in 2008 and had worked for several yards including ones in Dublin, Kildare and Connemara and one in Meath where he worked for five years before he lost his job and accommodation due to Covid.

He said that Barbolescu ended up in hostel accommodation in Dublin where he was sharing a dormitory with a number of other homeless men, some of whom had drug addictions and he ended up becoming addicted to crack cocaine. He turned to crime to feed his drug habit.

Judge Helen Boyle said she accepted that Barbolescu had co-operated with gardaí and had pleaded guilty at an early stage but nonetheless they were serious offences and she noted that his modus operandi involved targeting the same type of premises. None of the stolen goods were recovered.

“Aggravating factors in this case include the fact that a significant amount of property was taken. This is a city centre premises. It is very important that the vibrant and diverse trading community can trade in a safe environment and not be targeted in the manner in which you did,” she said.

She said she would impose a headline sentence of five years to mark the gravity of the offending but would reduce it to one of three and half years because of his guilty plea. She suspended the final 12 months to incentivise rehabilitation, leaving the accused with two and a half years to serve.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times