A car dealership just outside Mansfield was the centre of a local drug trafficking operation, used to traffic hundreds of kilos of cocaine and heroine across the UK.
Police say they have dismantled the UK-arm of a massive international drug trafficking network.
Mansfield members of the gang based at a Rainworth car dealership, used the garage to rebuild cars with secret compartments which could only be detected by X-Ray.
Police have now prosecuted numerous members of the 'sophisticated' Nottinghamshire ring, who also used encrypted mobile phones to organise the laundering cash and supply Class A and B drugs around the country.
According to EMSOU, the gang are 'linked' to the the alleged international drugs ring led by Sutton man Robert Dawes - said to be Europe's biggest network in history covering the whole continent, making millions of pounds and investigated for the deaths of 15 people.
Dawes was arrested in Dubai in 2008 and is currently awaiting trial after 13 tonnes of cocaine was found in suitcases at Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2013.
Working in parallel investigations, the East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU), National Crime Agency, and Crown Prosecution Service have jailed 11 men, seized 13kg of heroine, 168kgs of cocaine and 354kg of amphetamine - as well as a pill press and £200,000 in cash.
Over a dozen men and two women were sentenced to more than half a century between them for their roles in the network, and now the latest enquiries into this Mansfield group flagged up Christopher Turton and Dale Wright, who ran the Southwell Motor Group in Rainworth at the time.
EMSOU said: "Over eight months detectives evidenced cocaine, amphetamine and cash being moved around the East Midlands, north to Manchester, through to Scotland, south to Warwickshire and Birmingham, and on to Milton Keynes, Banbury and London.
"Lee Krokoszynski, Daryl Ballantine and Robert Durant were identified as Turton and Wright’s most trusted couriers, who exploited unregulated money transfer schemes to launder drugs money.
"William Hollingsworth-Marriott facilitated the provision of new unregistered mobile handsets and phone credit for the crime group to enable them to continue in their illicit business. He also helped move drugs and cash around the region."
In order to physically transfer their drugs and cash, Turton and Durant arranged for three specialists to be flown in from the continent to adapt a number of vehicles. They devised secret compartments which were so well hidden, they were only detectable by X-ray.
When Krokoszynski travelled to Portugal in July 2014 EMSOU officers notified the NCA. This information contributed to an existing joint operation between the NCA and the Portuguese authorities, which led to his arrest. They identified a handover of 167kg of cocaine, worth in excess of £7 million, smuggled on board a yacht called the Gloria of Grenada, which had sailed from South America. The shipment had been overseen by South America-based UK national Roy Livings.
The following month, more than 358kg of amphetamine, worth in excess of £750,000, was seized from a vehicle in Nottinghamshire and from a storage facility in Rugby, Warwickshire.
Detective Inspector Andy Jones, of EMSOU, said: “This was a sophisticated and well-organised crime group who utilised encrypted mobile phones, vehicle concealments and unregulated and untraceable cash transfers.
“Thanks to a thorough inquiry, initiated by Nottinghamshire Police, investigated by EMSOU, supported by the NCA and CPS, and in liaison with forces across the country, we left the group little option but to plead guilty at the first opportunity — something most of them did.
“Turton and Wright were pivotal in this network, organising and arranging the supply of drugs and the transfer of huge amounts of cash on behalf of an international organised crime group.
“I cannot emphasise enough that the street value of the seized drugs is exponentially more than what we have valued them at in the prosecution case. They were without doubt destined to cause great harm to our communities.
“These sentences and the dismantling of this criminal enterprise has not only put a stop to a major drugs supply based out of the East Midlands, it has also obstructed a significant drugs route into the country from overseas.
“We continue to work with the NCA on this matter, with further investigations ongoing and trials pending in mainland Europe.”
Rob Hickinbottom, NCA Regional Commander for the Midlands, said: “Collaborative working between the NCA and law enforcement agencies overseas led to the arrest in Spain of Robert Dawes who we believe is a major international drug trafficker.
“Dawes was extradited to France in connection with the seizure of 1.3 tonnes of cocaine hidden in suitcases on an Air France flight, and we are continuing to support the French authorities ahead of his trial.
“We have protected communities here by successfully targeting his criminal associates in the UK involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. By working closely with EMSOU this crime group has been dismantled along with another group we dealt with as part of a separate investigation.”
The majority of the gang were sentenced on Thursday 29 and Friday 30 September 2016 as follows:
Christopher Turton, aged 32, formerly of Squires Lane in Kings Clipstone – Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transfer criminal property, conspiracy to supply Class B drugs and conspiracy to supply Class A drugs: Jailed for 10 years.
Dale Wright, aged 42, formerly of Orchard Street in Mansfield – Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transfer criminal property and conspiracy to supply Class B drugs: Jailed for six years and eight months.
Daryl Ballantine, aged 53, formerly of Taylor Crescent in Sutton-in-Ashfield – Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transfer criminal property and conspiracy to supply Class B drugs: Jailed for six years.
Robert Durant, aged 52, of Jephson Road in Sutton-in-Ashfield – Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transfer criminal property: Four years and two months.
William Hollingsworth-Marriott, aged 21, of Ash Grove in Skegby – Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transfer criminal property, conspiracy to supply Class B drugs and the transfer of criminal property: Two years and eight months.
Stephen Ryan, aged 58, of Alma Road in Banbury – Pleaded guilty to possession with intent to supply cocaine and conspiracy to supply Class B drugs: Nine years.
Jaime Walls, aged 39, formerly of Braunston Road in Daventry – Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class B drugs: Jailed for four years.
Baber Khan, aged 36, of Admiral Walk in Carlton Gate, London – Found guilty after a trial of being concerned in a money laundering arrangement: A year-and-a-half in jail.
Ali Mendley, aged 31, of Middleton Crescent in Beeston – Pleaded guilty to being concerned in a money laundering arrangement: 12 months jail term suspended for 18 months. He must complete 180 hours of unpaid work.
Kenneth Barnes, aged 64, of Town Street in Pinxton, Derbyshire – Pleaded guilty to conspiring to supply Class B drugs and supplying Class A drugs: Two-year jail terms suspended for 12 months.
Rachel Johns, aged 40, of High Street in Braunston, Daventry – Pleaded guilty to transferring criminal property: Six-month jail term suspended for 12 months. She must complete 120 hours of unpaid work.
Lance Jeffrey, aged 30, of Anslow Avenue in Lenton Abbey – Pleaded guilty to possession with intent to supply Class B drugs: Six-month jail term suspended for 12 months. He must complete 120 hours of unpaid work.
Jared Kelly, aged 32, of Cowdrey Gardens in Arnold – Pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis and being concerned in the supply Class B drugs: Six-month jail term suspended for 12 months. He must complete 100 hours of unpaid work.
Hiva Mahmoudi, aged 29, of Kilmaurs Street in Glasgow – Found guilty of being concerned in a money laundering arrangement: To be sentenced on 11 November 2016.
Fateh Azizi, aged 39, of Kilmaurs Street in Glasgow – Found guilty of being concerned in a money laundering arrangement: To be sentenced on 11 November 2016.
Daniel Yeboah, aged 34, formerly of Warton Avenue in St Ann’s, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transfer criminal property and being concerned in the supply of Class B drugs. In November 2015, at Stafford Crown Court, he was sentenced to 86 months and 42 months respectively, to run concurrently.
In May he also pleaded guilty to a further charge of possession of an SA 80 assault rifle and was sentenced to a further 60 months to run concurrently with his existing sentence. That’s a total of seven years and two months in jail.
In September 2015, at a Portuguese court, Lee Krokoszynski, aged 34, formerly of Second Avenue in Rainworth, Nottinghamshire, and Roy Livings, a 64-year-old British national living in South America, were jailed for eight years and ten years respectively.
Europe's biggest drugs ring taken down over two years
The timeline of events that led to the convictions started on April 2014 when £100,825 was recovered from a car, driven by Fateh Azizi, in Winson Green, Birmingham.
By May, a Brazilian and two Spanish nationals were recruited by Christopher Turton and Dale Wright to begin adapting a VW Caddy and two other vehicles with special voids to hide drugs and cash.
The same month, £100,985 recovered from a Citroen Picasso, driven by Robert Durant, on the M1 at Leicester. Durant had received the money from Ali Mendley, who in turn worked for Nottingham amphetamine dealer Daniel Yeboah. Durant was on his way to new ‘banker’ Baber Khan in Milton Keynes, in lieu of their exposed Birmingham 'arrangement'.
It was suspected that over a period of a few months more than £1 million was laundered through Birmingham-based handlers Fateh Azizi and his nephew Hiva Mahmoudi.
Further seizures were made in vans in Skegby, Banbury in Oxfordshire until August last year when 167kgs of cocaine worth more than £7 million was seized from a car driven by Lee Krokoszynski in Portugal prompting Ballantine to dismantle and destroy Krokoszynski’s VW Caddy tand with it, the evidence of the secret compartment.
In February last year the gang were arrested for their parts in the conspiracy. In total, 22 people were arrested in organised raids over a period of four days, with more than 300 law enforcement officers from the police and NCA conducting multiple search warrants thought the country.
The NCA investigation into another crime group based in the Nottinghamshire area recovered 13kgs of heroin, 28.5kgs of amphetamine, 12kgs of MDMA, £9,000 cash and an industrial pill press. Eight men were later sentenced in February 2016 at Nottingham Crown Court to a total of 80 years in jail for Class A and B drug offences.
Turton was shot in the groin in a Sutton-in-Ashfield street in October 2014 - he refused to co-operate with police and the case remains undetected.