Drug dealers forced to pay back thousands of pounds of ill-gotten gains

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A court has ordered that more than £109,000 can be seized from 13 people – including seven from Northamptonshire - who were involved in the supply of cannabis across the UK.

The figure was reached at the end of proceedings at Northampton Crown Court to establish how much money the group had made from crime and which of their current assets could be seized through confiscation orders.

The 13 were connected to a group who had conspired to supply Class B drugs in the UK and Northern Ireland.

The investigation, led by the East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU), had uncovered the large scale supply of cannabis and cannabis resin, which was sourced from the West Midlands and the North West of England.

Some of the conspirators were also involved in the ‘cutting’ and sale of cocaine in Northamptonshire.

EMSOU worked with Northamptonshire, West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Lancashire police forces to arrest the offenders in April 2011. It also liaised closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which carried out a parallel investigation in the province.

Following trials and hearings held during 2012 at Northampton, the group members in England were sentenced to a total of 64 years in prison, the longest single sentence being 11 years and six months for 47-year-old Nigel Long, of William Street, Kettering.

A detailed examination of the finances of the offenders was subsequently undertaken by a specialist financial investigator, who established how much money the group had each made through their criminal activity, known in court as the ‘benefit’, and how much was available in realisable assets for confiscation.

Any future income or assets they acquire can potentially be confiscated to discharge their individual ‘benefit’, which is now effectively a debt to remain on record for life or until it is fully repaid.

More than £2,400 will be seized immediately from Long, whose personal benefit was calculated to be more than £2m, and £3,230 will be taken from his 31-year-old partner Angela Long, of Argyll Street, Corby, a former benefits assessor for a local council, who was convicted of money laundering.

It was shown in court that she set up a bank account to deposit cash made from the group’s drug dealing, which she also used to book luxury holidays and purchase designer clothes.

Police financial investigator Nicola Jeff, who carried out the work to assess what the offenders had made from their criminal activity and available assets they had, said: “It’s important that not only the drugs dealers are bought to justice but also those who assist them in their crime. Partners and family members will be pursued if we can show they played a part in allowing their loved ones to commit crime.”

Of the other offenders, 51-year-old Gary Sarson, of Heyhouses Lane, Lytham St Anne’s, near Blackpool, who was jailed for five years and eight months, will have almost £61,000 seized.

Detective Inspector Greg Maides, who led the EMSOU investigation, said: “Establishing how much criminals made from their crime is essential to ensuring that they really do pay their debt to society. A prison sentence may deprive them of their liberty for some considerable time, but it is important that they cannot continue to benefit from money and assets acquired through criminal activity.

He added: “Financial investigation is increasingly helping to ensure that criminals cannot just serve their time in prison and return to their ill-gotten gains. It is striking at the very motive for committing crime, hitting criminals where it really hurts them.

“Clearly, it would be ideal to recover every penny an offender makes from crime, but the reality is that quite often that money has been spent. We have to ensure that we clearly identify those assets that they do retain post-conviction and which can be confiscated.

“The expertise of our investigators is also enabling police forces and other law enforcement agencies to put seized criminal assets to lawful uses, such as crime prevention initiatives and local community projects.”

Last month, seven men were sentenced at Belfast Crown Court to a total of 21 years in prison for their role in the cannabis supply conspiracy.

Cars seized from two of the Northern Irish defendants will be sold and the proceeds donated to a children’s charity in the province, along with £18,500 in cash that was recovered during the investigation.

The East Midlands Special Operation Unit-Serious Organised Crime (EMSOU-SOC) team tackles cross-county border serious organised crime in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire. From September 2011, force specialist covert investigation teams enhanced existing ones at EMSOU making it the largest collaboration of its kind in the country. It has greatly improved forces’ ability to tackle this type of criminality, which includes importation and distribution of drugs and money laundering, at a significantly reduced cost.