An organised crime gang who used a tailor-made concealment in the roof of a Bentley to smuggle cocaine into the UK and cash out, have been jailed today for more than 100 years at Blackfriars Crown Court.
Florentino Gonzales, 48, drove his Bentley between Belgium and the UK, using an underground car park at the Marlin Apartments, Southwark, to meet London based dealers and exchange the smuggled drugs for cash.
He and five others were convicted in March for the drug trafficking conspiracy following an investigation by the joint NCA and Met Police Organised Crime Partnership (OCP).
The group was under surveillance by OCP officers when Gonzales parked up in his Bentley and met with Armand Cuni, 39, and Edwin Abazi, 31, on 5th September 2016.
Gonzales, who had driven to the UK from his home in Belgium that day, handed over 30 kilos of cocaine to the pair before heading to the Britannia International Hotel, Canary Wharf.
Surveillance continued on the apartment building and, over the next 24 hours, officers observed two separate exchanges in the car park between Abazi and Bajram Elezi, 34, and Cuni and Yelton Cera, 26.
Both Elezi and Cera were arrested by OCP officers as they left the car park in possession of 5 kilos and 13 kilos of cocaine.
On 6th September, officers recovered another 12 kilos of cocaine stashed behind the kitchen kickboard of the apartment rented by Cuni and Abazi. Both men were detained shortly after.
The 30 kilos of cocaine seized had an estimated value to organised crime of £1 million and a potential likely street value of around £3.6 million.
Gonzales was arrested at his hotel where OCP officers seized multiple mobile phones, a small quantity of cash and his Bentley. The car was then searched by a specialist Border Force team who detected the purpose-built concealment in the roof.
Seven individually wrapped packages of cash in varying denominations were recovered from the concealment with an estimated value of over £250,000.
Eurotunnel records showed that the Bentley travelled to the UK a total of 13 times in 2016.
On one of these trips in August 2016, Gonzales delivered cocaine to Saimir Byberi, 30. OCP officers later observed Byberi handing a black holdall to Kamrul Khan, 26, at the Marlin Apartments, Canary Wharf.
Officers stopped Khan and arrested him when the holdall was found to contain 5 kilos of cocaine. Officers also recovered a further 880 grams of cocaine, 200 grams of heroin, cash, and scales from Khan’s flat on Estate Road, East London.
On 29th September 2016 at Kingston Crown Court, Khan pleaded guilty to possession of class A drugs with intent to supply and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Byberi was arrested near his home in Bedford, and on 18th December 2016 he pleaded guilty along with Cuni and Cera to drug supply offences at Blackfriars Crown Court.
Elezi was found guilty on 17 March 2017 and the same verdict was returned on Gonzales and Abazi following a five week trial.
The gang were all sentenced today to:
Gonzalez – 24 years
Cuni – 22 years
Abazi – 21 years
Byberi – 15 years
Cera – 12 years
Elezi – 8 years
Andy Tickner from the Organised Crime Partnership, said: “Gonzales and his associates were professional drug traffickers who played a crucial role in supplying a network of London-based dealers with cocaine.
“The specially constructed concealment in his Bentley had the potential to hold up to 60kg of cocaine at one time and was also used to transport criminal cash out of the UK.
“By disrupting this network we have prevented a significant quantity of class A drugs reaching the streets of London, the sale of which would have gone on to fund further criminality.
“The OCP will continue to target those involved in serious criminality that impacts upon London’s communities and ensure they are brought to justice.”