‘Respectable’ Corby businessman used recovery truck for cocaine dealing conspiracies
A court heard Alex McConnell was using his garage as a 'cover' for collecting drugs from Liverpool
A well-known former garage owner from Corby who lived a champagne lifestyle has been sentenced for his part in two conspiracies to supply class-A drugs.
Alexander McConnell, formerly of Stanion Lane, Corby, was regularly pictured on social media mixing with well-known local faces and on expensive foreign trips. Despite previous drug dealing convictions, McConnell owned a successful firm he described to his co-conspirators as his 'straight graft'.
But Central Autopoint in Maylan Road, a company from which McConnell resigned as a director at the end of September last year and now has no involvement in, was used as a 'cover' for his drug dealing activities, Northampton Crown Court has heard.
The 56-year-old had brought more than five kilos of cocaine into Corby from Liverpool and used his firm's breakdown truck to collect the 'stash vehicle' from the North West.
Appearing in court yesterday (Thursday, April 15) the former soldier admitted his part in two conspiracies, using encrypted chat to move high-purity cocaine worth hundreds of thousands into Corby.
He pleaded guilty to conspiring with two other men - Liam Rogers and Matthew Murray - to supply cocaine in Corby between April 1, 2020, and December 16, 2020 as part of what was termed The Liverpool Conspiracy.
He was also sentenced for his part in a second conspiracy - The Corby Conspiracy - with four other co-defendants who cannot be named for legal reasons and are due to stand trial at the end of the year.
The court heard that McConnell was caught boasting on the secret network EncroChat that he had a 'team' in Corby, a 'straight' partner with links to Corby Town Football Club, and contacts in Dubai and South America. He also claimed that his father had been in prison in Caracas, Venezuela.
His defence said that this was just 'bravado' and that he was 'a one-man-band'.
Prosecuting, John O'Higgins, said that Rogers, 32, of Oleander Way, Liverpool had been contacted by McConnell on April 7 last year who told him he was interested in buying five kilos of cocaine and that he would be able to sell it within a week.
He told him he 'had people in Columbia' but that he couldn't get 'the right door'. He also told them about his 'straight' businesses in Corby including his garage, a taxi firm and a piece of land he owned.
"In good times he'd turnover five to ten thousand pound a week dealing cocaine," said Mr O'Higgins.
"There were detailed discussions.. about how the drugs are going to be sent. Mr McConnell would send a recovery truck which will recover a vehicle in which the drugs have been stashed in a secure compartment. The drugs would then be driven from Liverpool to Corby."
McConnell decided to buy three kilos of cocaine as the start of what the judge described as an 'ongoing business arrangement' and just two weeks after the drugs had been delivered to Corby, McConnell sent messages to the Liverpool conspirators claiming he had already sold two kilos of the coke and had £80,000 in cash to pay them.
Then in September last year, McConnell drove to Liverpool, met up with Murray and Rogers and then returned home.
A second conspiracy, The Corby Conspiracy, was alleged to have taken place between October 1 and November 26, 2020, along with four other alleged co-defendants who have denied all the charges and are yet to stand trial.
In it, McConnell was said to have driven into Corby Town FC's ground, and gone into the building where communications about that conspiracy are said to have taken place.
McConnell also admitted supplying 250 grams of cocaine of 80 per cent purity, worth £10,000 to two alleged drug dealers from outside of Northamptonshire.
On November 4, McConnell was seen driving his Range Rover through Corby before he swapped to a Vauxhall Astra then drove to a residential area of Corby. The court heard how he was witnessed with a bag containing 1.66kg of 81 per cent purity cocaine worth about £166,000. His Honour Judge David Herbert QC said he did not accept that this cocaine was part of the first batch bought in April, and that it was from a separate deal done as part of the Liverpool conspiracy.
Then at the end of November last year, McConnell, Murray and Rogers were arrested and their properties searched.
In McConnell's BMW was found 454 grams of cocaine along with benzodiazepine and caffeine.
In Murray's house at Moor Lane, Thornton, Sefton, was £58,000 and 5000 Euros, designer clothing worth £50,000 and an encrypted phone.
When Rogers was arrested he immediately told officers he had ten kilos of cocaine in his house, which was eventually found to have a purity of 70 per cent and a street value of £1m. They discovered an encrypted mobile phone, £13,000 in cash, a list of dealers, weighing scales and a large quantity of designer clothing.
All the defendants gave 'no comment' interviews to police.
Rogers also admitted being involved in a second two kilo cocaine conspiracy of his own - with a different organised crime gang based around Corby’s Lincoln estate. The police effort to catch this separate organised crime gang was known as Operation Warrior. Several members of that gang, who also cannot be named, will stand trial later this year.
The court heard that Murray had no previous convictions, Rogers had a shoplifting conviction and among McConnell's string of convictions were drug supply offences from 1993 and 1997 for which he had been sentenced to three years and five years in jail respectively.
Mitigating for McConnell, barrister Liam Muir said that his client had exaggerated his lifestyle to impress the Liverpool dealers and did not have a 'team' in Corby - although Judge Herbert said he did not accept this account.
Mr Muir added: "He had businesses that are legitimate. There is no evidence to (substantiate the claims he made) that his father was smuggled out of prison or that he is trying to break into South America or of him having contacts in Columbia.
"There's stuff that's said in EncroChat that's bravado.
"He buys drugs and sends out messages advertising them.
"He's still saying in May that he's got them. It's not a flourishing business. He refers to the 'good times' in conversations and there's a ring of truth about that. He's a one-man-band. You think he's making tens of thousands. That's not what he's making."
The court was told that McConnell had left the army around thirty years ago and become involved in the 'party scene', selling acid, speed and cannabis, for which he was convicted in 1993.
He was then charged with dealing cocaine in the late 90s and was sentenced to five years in jail.
Mr Muir added: "He's built up a proper, legitimate business. He's built himself up into a respectable businessman.
"He separated from his wife in 2019 and got back into drugs. When you know people involved and you've been involved in it before, when you've had history with these people and been to school with them, it's a lot easier to get high up, quickly."
In mitigation, the court was told that Murray had mental health problems and a young family, and that 'none of this was their fault'. Mitigating for Rogers, barrister Matthew Buckland said that his client had been in rehab and had only become involved in the conspiracy to settle gambling debts.
Judge Herbert said that he believed McConnell was buying and selling cocaine on a commercial scale.
He said the three were 'established' drug dealers in their hometowns, adding: "The evidence demonstrates you were all involved in wholesale supply of substantial quantities of cocaine.
"Mr McConnell, the three kilograms of cocaine is simply an example of the scale of your involvement in the sale of Class-A drugs.
"The fact your communication was made by EncroChat indicates you were already established in your trade.
"At one stage you indicated that in better times you were turning over five to ten kilograms of cocaine per week. This demonstrates the extent of your drug distribution and it's capabilities."
Judge Herbert said that the fact McConnell had managed to distribute two kilos of the cocaine just two weeks after it was collected from Liverpool showed that this was 'not a one-off.'
"You had the ability and contacts to buy and sell a wholesale amount of drugs.
"You travelled to Liverpool in September. It can't have been a social visit. You were there for ongoing business reasons.
"In October and November there's a further 2.3 kilos of cocaine. I do not accept it was part of the three kilos from Liverpool. The evidence suggests that had long been sold on to other customers.
"You had a leading role within the criminal group, organising, buying and selling on a commercial scale. It's right to say you did have legitimate business interests as well but you used at least one of them to facilitate your drug operation on at least one occasion.
"At times, you have made a career out of drug dealing."
McConnell was jailed for ten years and eight months. The judge said that he would have been given a sixteen year sentence after trial but his sentence was cut by a third for his early guilty plea. He will serve half of the sentence and the remainder out on licence.
Murray and Rogers were both sentenced to nine years in prison for their 'leading roles' in the conspiracy.
A serious crime prevention order hearing against McConnell will take place later this year.
On April 1 last year the National Crime Agency successfully penetrated and decoded French-based EncroChat and subsequently made 800 arrests, disrupting large-scale drug importation operations. The secret communications system, which law enforcement bodies said was being used as a 'criminal marketplace', was subsequently taken down. The encrypted phones cost £900 and a monthly subscription was £1,500. Members began disposing of their phones once the company realised messages were being intercepted - but by then it was too late.