Darlington man Paul Brett was at the head of a well organised empire that tried to flood the area with more than £1m of cocaine. The gang was disrupted after an 18-month undercover operation – the biggest in Durham Police history – culminated in raids last year. Brett, 25, was jailed along with five others from Darlington, Teesside and Merseyside. Detective Chief Superintendent Jane Spraggon said afterwards: “This operation proves no one is untouchable.” Brett’s right-hand man, Mark Dee, 25, was jailed for seven years, while fellow Darlington organiser David Pierce, 41, was jailed for five years. Teesside Crown Court heard that they fixed up deals in Liverpool and arranged for couriers to travel across the Pennines and bring back drugs. In Ronald Bennett’s house in Liverpool, police found an industrial blender, cocaine and a 20-tonne hydraulic press. Market trader Bennett, 57, was the “packager” who Judge Tony Briggs said was crucial to the success of the gang. He was jailed for eight years. Lance Kennedy, 24, from Birkenhead, and Craig Costello, 29, from Middlesbrough, were each jailed for 15 months for money laundering. The pair were caught with nearly £20,000 after police watched Brett hand over a holdall at a McDonald’s car park in Darlington. Brett, a one-time fitness instructor who had never worked during the surveillance and had no bank accounts in the UK, made regular trips abroad. He was pictured in a newspaper flanked by two glamour girls at the opening of a Dubai nightclub and stayed at £800-a-night hotels in Thailand. Dee, a joiner, was said to have been paid only £1,500 for arranging deals. Bennett’s barrister said his client was the one who got his hands the dirtiest. Lawyers for charity fundraiser Kennedy and offshore worker Costello said they were unaware the money was from drug-dealing. Brett, of Yiewsley Drive, Darlington, admitted a fraud charge and converting criminal property and conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. Richard Littler, in mitigation, said he deserved credit for being the first to plead guilty, forcing the others to do so. Bennett, of Fairfax Road, Liverpool, and Dee, of Honeywood Gardens, Darlington, also pleaded guilty to being part of the conspiracy. Pierce, a former amateur boxer and shop-fitter, of Kilmarnock Road, Darlington, was found guilty of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. Tom Mitchell, in mitigation, said: “He falls to the bottom of whatever he finds himself involved with.” Kennedy, of Livingstone Street, Birkenhead, and father-of-three Costello, of St Cuthbert Avenue, Marton, Middlesbrough, admitted conspiracy to transfer criminal property.
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