A criminal gang that supplied almost 200kg of cocaine and heroin across the UK and laundered more than £6 million during the first lockdown have been sentenced following a Regional Economic Crime Unit investigation (ROCU).
The investigation began in May 2020, when intelligence was received that an organised crime group based in Sheffield and Rotherham were operating a nationwide, multi-million-pound cocaine and heroin trafficking network using encrypted phones.
Torick Akram, 38, of Thorpe Hesley, Rotherham, was the first man to be arrested as he went to work, and a subsequent search of his car recovered two suitcases which contained £1.1 million in cash.
Mr Akram was also in possession of an encrypted device, and when officers searched his home address, a further £161,000 in cash was concealed in the basement. The house also contained cash counting machines, elastic bands and cash wrappings.
He admitted to being involved in the counting and processing of cash on behalf of the crime group, effectively operating as their banker, and was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in March 2021.
In June 2020, Joshua Walshaw, 26, of Central Avenue, Rotherham, was arrested on the M1 near Wakefield and found to be in possession of £150,000 cash in his vehicle.
The investigation found Mr Walshaw worked as a courier for the gang, delivering cocaine and heroin to customers around the country, and collecting payment. Between March and June 2020, Mr Walshaw delivered 32.25kg cocaine and 3kg heroin and collected £651,660 cash on behalf of the gang.
The two men who led the criminal operation, Adrees Rehman, 27, of Oxley Grove Rotherham and Imran Mohammed, 36, of Godard Hall Road, Sheffield, were also arrested in June 2020, and later charged with conspiracy to supply class A drugs and conspiracy to money launder.
They both had in their possession encrypted phone devices which revealed during the investigation that over a 44-day period between March and May 2020 the gang had supplied 176kg cocaine and 18kg heroin. Over a 74-day period between March and June 2020, they had collected in excess of £6.4million cash from the proceeds of their drug supply operation.
The final trio arrested for their involvement in the gang was Michael Moore, 40 and Sarah Jo Fisher, 33, both of Washington Avenue, Barnsley, who worked together as couriers for the gang. Analysis of their phones found messages which revealed they had been responsible for twenty-one criminal exchanges and they collected more than £2.8million cash on behalf of the gang.
Christopher Lait, 38, of Hillcote Drive, Sheffield, was also a courier for the gang, carrying out 19 criminal exchanges in which he had collected over £970,000 in cash.
All six appeared at Leeds Crown Court today on Friday, and were given the following sentences:
• Joshua Walshaw: Six years in prison
• Adrees Rehman: 14 years and four months in prison
• Imran Mohammed: 16 years in prison
• Michael Moore: 20 months in prison
• Sarah Jo Fisher: 20 months in prison
• Christopher Lait: 12 months sentence suspended for 18 months.
Detective Inspector Mick Ryan, of the Yorkshire & Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit, said: “The scale of drug trafficking and money laundering by this organised crime group was significant, and bringing them to justice involved a tremendous effort from my team.”
“We welcome the convictions and the sentences that have been handed down today, which takes account of their guilty pleas.”
“Drugs have a detrimental effect on society as it fuels crime and destroys the lives of those who take them. This gang did not care as they trafficked drugs wholesale, and they wrongly believed using encrypted phones would help them avoid being caught. Our team were quick to intercept the operation and arrest them.”
“Work has already commenced to forfeit the recovered cash and ensure that those convicted do not benefit from crime as we take steps to recover their assets”