An organised crime group (OCG) set up a fake computer company to cover industrial supplies of cocaine it imported.
The group leased premises in Widnes, Cheshire, bought stock and even had fleece jackets made with the company name on – Clarke Computers and Software Limited.
The offenders – whose leader Craig Gallagher, 36, also supplied firearms – were caught by the National Crime Agency after EncroChat, the encrypted communications platform, was taken down in 2020.
From L to R: Carl Pickering, Christopher Van Maren, Craig Callagher, David Jones
Liam Reynolds, Marcus Allen, Wesley Campbell
Evidence showed the great lengths the OCG went to in order to avoid detection.
They used a car, a Renault Twingo, with a specially built hide under the front passenger seat to move Class A drugs.
As they continued to move drugs and money around the country during the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown they wanted to avoid being stopped by police.
So they used a breakdown recovery truck to conceal commodities and a window fitting van with one OCG member wearing works clothes and employing a cover story that he was going to an emergency repair job.
Today, four members of the OCG were jailed at Liverpool Crown Court after admitting a raft of offences.
Gallagher, of Inchape Road, Liverpool, was known on EncroChat by the handles Acidchest and Onion.com.
He was jailed for 24 years.
While not personally being in possession of the guns, he admitted trying to broker the sales of firearms including an AR-15 assault rifle, AK47s, Glock handguns, a Skorpion machine pistol and self-loading pistols.
He imported at least 100kg of cocaine – with a street value of around £8m. Though not charged with it, he also dealt more than 500kg of cannabis in the Netherlands.
Gallagher also admitted transferring criminal property – in that through his offending he handled at least £3,149,159.
NCA officers waded through 40,000 messages to and from Gallagher’s EncroChat handles.
The evidence showed that the OCG leased an industrial unit in Trafalgar Court, Widnes, and in May 2020 Gallagher was planning to smuggle between 50kg and 100kg of cocaine twice a week in a coverload of computers.
On 17 May 2020 Gallagher told one contact he had lost 9kg of cocaine when a lorry was stopped at the French border. He said it was the third big loss for him that year and he’d lost about £700,000 in total but could cover it from what he had “in the pot”, but could not take any more similar losses.
Gallagher had numerous exchanges with contacts about firearms deals and advertised an AK47 with 85 bullets for sale at £11,000.
He was arrested at Manchester Airport on 27 January 2021 as he waited to board a flight to Dubai.
Christopher Van Maren, 41, of Rhodesia Road, Liverpool, was a trusted member of the OCG looking after money and storing drugs at his house.
He was known by the handle Bushyquail and told Gallagher he was “hungry” to be involved.
“Huge risk, huge rewards,” he messaged on EncroChat.
Van Maren was in control of a ‘dealer phone’ to supply smaller quantities of cocaine. Evidence connected him to at least 47kg of cocaine and £1m in cash. He was jailed for 12 years after admitting supplying cocaine and transferring criminal property.
Known as ‘The Geek’ by other members of the OCG, Marcus Allen, 29, of Grey Road, Liverpool, was jailed for eight years.
He couriered drugs and at least £686,500. He admitted supplying cocaine and transferring criminal property.
Wesley Campbell, 39, of Castle Green, Warrington, operated two EncroChat handles, Fox-Bat and Covid-Kid.
He bought drugs from the OCG and then supplied them onwards. The messages show that at one point he owed the OCG £123,000 which he paid in two cash instalments in just one day. He admitted supplying cocaine and transferring criminal property. He was sentenced to 12 years.
Kevin Boyle, 42, of Bewley Drive, Kirkby, Liverpool, was the OCG’s frontman.
He used an alias of Maurice Clarke to set up the fake company and hired the business premises but he claimed he thought his accomplices were bringing in cigarettes and alcohol.
Boyle ordered the company’s fleece jackets and wore one when he went to view the industrial unit. He had an app on his tablet from which he could monitor the premises’ CCTV.
He admitted participating in the activities of an OCG and was jailed for 30 months last December.
Carl Pickering, David Jones and Liam Reynolds will all return to Liverpool Crown Court to be sentenced on 18 September.
Pickering, 40, of Gresford Close, Warrington, worked for Wesley Campbell but also sold drugs to customers himself. Evidence showed that Pickering went to great lengths to protect his crimes during lockdown, on one occasion dropping money off, by using a window company works van, wearing works clothes and having a cover story that he was going to an emergency repair job.
He admitted supplying cocaine and transferring criminal property.
David Jones, 38, of Harvey Avenue, Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, admitted the same offences. He couriered drugs and cash for Campbell.
Liam Reynolds, 27, of Mount Road, Liverpool, admitted supplying cocaine.
Mike Beigan, NCA operations manager, said: “These men formed a very dangerous and damaging criminal organisation.
“They brought in industrial volumes of cocaine that have no doubt contributed to further waves of crime and misery in our communities.
“They didn’t care about other people though, just money.
“And Craig Gallagher thought nothing of brokering deals to equip serious criminals with deadly weapons, the sort of weapons that have been used with tragic consequences in recent times.”
Merseyside Police and Cheshire Police assisted the NCA when the offenders were arrested in 2021.
02 August 2023