Irish Travellers plead not guilty to racketeering in South Carolina

Defendants face possible 20-year prison sentence over federal racketeering charges

Nineteen Irish people have pleaded not guilty to federal racketeering charges in the US state of South Carolina, according to local media.

The State newspaper reported that the 19 Travellers were mostly from Murphy Village, a settlement outside North Augusta founded by members of the Travelling community. 

It said the group was indicted as part of an FBI investigation into allegations of widespread fraud.

The defendants are accused in court documents of laundering money and defrauding government benefits including food stamps and tax refunds.

A total of 22 people are named in the case as suspected members and associates of a criminal organisation operating in Murphy Village and elsewhere.

The accused face charges carrying a maximum $250,000 fine and a 20-year prison sentence.

Local media said they were released on a $25,000 unsecured bond, with three others expected to be arraigned and plead not guilty within 24 hours.

Federal authorities have also reportedly moved to confiscate luxury vehicles, including a Porsche, a Mercedes, three BMWs and three Lexuses, in the Murphy Village area.

Federal indictment documents said many of the accused own large homes, and expensive jewellery and clothes, which are "often acquired through fraud schemes".

Around 1,400 Travellers live in Murphy Village, according to the US 2010 census.