And it emerged in the Royal Court yesterday that kingpin John Alexander Roy is wanted in Australia in connection with a billion-dollar drugs plot.
During the second day of sentencing yesterday, Nicholas Maxwell Thurban (62) was jailed for 13 years and six months, Colin Russel Sait (45) for 12 years, Paul Dennis Brown (59) for 12 years, Daniel Niall Riley (27) for eight years and two months, Roy (55) for 12 years, Jon Adam Hughes (41) for 14 years and three months and Deborah Karen Wolff (54) for two years.
The gang plotted to smuggle £919,000-worth of MDMA, cannabis and cocaine into Jersey on a chartered yacht. However, unknown to the conspirators, States police and Customs officers had been watching their every move.
The operation was described as one of the most complex drugs investigations ever undertaken by Jersey authorities and involved combing through data from 136 mobile phones – the largest telecommunications analysis ever undertaken in the Island.
Events culminated on 21 June last year when officers spotted Sait rowing a small boat away from a yacht anchored at Bel Val Bay, near St Catherine, and saw Brown walking out to meet him on the shoreline. They then observed Sait give two rucksacks of drugs to Brown and, in exchange, Sait was given a bag of cash, totalling £20,610.
According to the prosecution, Brown then became aware he was being watched and stashed the rucksacks in a hedge before fleeing. He was later arrested by officers as he attempted to drive away in his car near St Catherine’s Lifeboat Station.
Soon after, a UK Border Force patrol boat intercepted their sailing yacht and arrested Thurban and Sait, who were both found onboard. Thurban was also found with eight tablets matching the kind later found in the rucksacks.
A number of the defendants were also sentenced for money-laundering offences after tens of thousands of pounds was smuggled from Jersey to the UK.
Speaking on Tuesday, Crown Advocate Matthew Maletroit revealed that officers covertly entered the Jersey hotel rooms booked by some of the suspects while they were out – finding thousands of pounds of cash, counting it and photographing it before putting it back, in order to not compromise the investigation. Officers employed the same tactics as some of the suspects flew between the UK and Jersey, intercepting their bags and documenting what they found.
This week, after having spent more than a year in custody following their arrests, the seven defendants appeared in the Royal Court, flanked by many States police, court and prison officers.
Delivering the sentence of the court, Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith described drug trafficking as ‘evil’, saying that it wreaked havoc with the lives of individual users and their families. ‘The lives often blighted are those of the young,’ he said.
He added that in cases of commercial-level importation of drugs into Jersey it was the court’s policy to impose the most lengthy of sentences.
The 18-month investigation, known as Operation Lion, saw States police and Customs officers working alongside colleagues from the National Crime Agency, UK Border Force and Australian Police. The operation uncovered direct correlation between the Jersey conspirators and other illegal drugs operations worldwide and involved the largest data communications trawl ever completed by local authorities.
Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Chris Beechey said: ‘The joint investigation with our JCIS colleagues formed part of a much bigger worldwide picture, requiring excellent international collaboration. Today’s sentences and the associated seizures will have had a major impact on illegal drug importation into our Island. We know how easily controlled drugs can destroy families and communities and we will continue to work tirelessly to see this type of offender and this type of criminality brought to justice.’
Customs and Immigration senior manager Andrew Hunt added: ‘I’d like to thank all those involved in this lengthy and complex investigation for the part they played in bringing the case to a successful conclusion which drew together the very best ingredients of joint working and collaboration at a local, national and international level. The sentences handed down by the Royal Court reflect the serious nature of organised crime that was committed by this group over a long period of time, targeting Jersey for their own financial gain.’
Advocate Mike Preston spoke first to defend Nicholas Maxwell Thurban, who in 2015 was jailed in France for two years and fined 96,420 euros after trying to smuggle cannabis into Cherbourg from the UK on a boat.
Advocate Preston said that his client’s role in the current case was limited, with him only serving as a ‘boatman’, and he asked for the sentence of 14 years, put forward by the Crown, to be reduced to 11.
‘He is not involved in sourcing the drugs, co-ordinating matters – it was specifically the transportation. He was not involved in the distribution and sale of drugs in Jersey and is not involved in the laundering from the transactions,’ he said.
‘His role in the importation was getting the drugs from A to B, which he thought was cannabis and ecstasy worth £250,000. It is understood that he was to receive a 10% share of that amount.’
Advocate Preston added: ‘He deeply regrets his choices and knows that he will now spend several of his latter years in prison.’
Advocate Allana Binnie told the court that her client, Colin Russel Sait, who was facing 12 years and three months in jail, should only serve nine years and four months.
‘My client rowed the tender [small boat] to shore with the drugs and participated in the exchange of cash – that is all,’ she said.
‘He was just someone onboard used to get the drugs to shore. He had no sailing experience and has not done something like this before.’
Advocate Binnie said that before becoming involved, Sait had lost his job, his relationship had broken down and had no stable accommodation.
‘When he was approached with details of the plan in the pub that he was staying above, he was desperate and the financial draw was just too great for him. He was shocked to eventually find out the amounts [street value] involved,’ she said.
Paul Dennis Brown, a plumber turned drugs-receiver, was this week told by the Crown that he could be facing 12 years and three months behind bars.
But Advocate Christopher Austin, defending, said he should serve nine years and six months instead.
‘Mr Brown’s involvement was more minor than the other defendants. His role was to receive an unknown quantity of drugs of an unknown type. He has accepted that he was reckless and thought he was only receiving cannabis. He was told to take the drugs in exchange for the cash and leave the drugs in the back of an unlocked hire car.’
Advocate Austin also responded to comments made by Crown Advocate Matthew Maletroit that Brown had ditched the drugs in a hedge because he knew he was being tailed.
He said that during the handover, Sait told Brown, ‘This is not what you think it is’, before he realised the plot was far more serious and wanted no more part in it, before ditching the rucksacks. He added that his client’s crime was financially motivated after losing his job as a plumber due to a heart condition.
Advocate Sarah Dale, representing Daniel Niall Riley, who was accused of being in charge of the onward sale of drugs in Jersey, said her client had no knowledge of the full extent and value of the material being imported, despite the Crown saying otherwise. She also raised questions about her client being charged with money laundering.
‘Is there evidence of anything [dealing] on a commercial level? I would say there is not, although there is evidence of low-level dealing between friends.
‘The money laundering came about because of the involvement in money – but there is always going to be money passed from person to person. That is the very nature of supply. The money-laundering argument could be made for all [drug] supply cases.’
Advocate Dale added that Riley had cooperated with the judicial process, signing a bank account disclosure form, entering guilty pleas as soon as possible and therefore not delaying sentencing. She then asked for the court to impose a maximum sentence of nine years and four months.
According to the prosecution, Jon Adam Hughes was said to have a two-pronged role in the operation – both helping to launder money and trying to facilitate the importation by viewing a boat in Jersey, which the group had considered buying instead of using the yacht.
His lawyer, Advocate Howard Sharp, said: ‘Mr Hughes has made some poor choices and I am not here to sugar coat that, dress it up, dress it down and he has taken responsibility for his actions.’
He added: ‘The Crown acknowledges Hughes’ drug conviction from 2012 and since this, he has worked as a construction manager on some high-profile building sites. Things were going well until 2018 when he was in a serious car crash. His employment stopped as he was not able to work as a result and he turned to alcohol.’
He added that his client was only taking instructions from further up the chain when he viewed the boat and his role was low-level.
John Alexander Roy, who in 1998 was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his role in a plot to smuggle eight tonnes of cannabis into Australia, also appeared to be sentenced yesterday.
He was accused by the Crown of organising the charter of the yacht in Hamble and laundering money from Jersey to the UK.
Advocate Michael Haines, defending, said that the 13 years and nine months called for by the prosecution was too high and instead suggested that ten to 11 years’ custody was more appropriate.
Describing him as a ‘lay recruit’, he said: ‘A reference has been made to Roy’s 1998 previous convictions. That was over 22 years ago and it now has absolutely no merit whatsoever in determining his role in this matter.
‘I submit that there is no evidence that he was an organiser. I will place Mr Roy as a boatman and having a mutual position, probably even a negative position within the conspiracy.’
It emerged yesterday that Roy was wanted by officers in Western Australia as part of what Australian media has said is an investigation into a $1billion [Australian] plot to smuggle over a tonne of ecstasy, cocaine and methylamphetamine into the country on a yacht.
Speaking to ABC News in January, Acting WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch, said preparations were being made to extradite Roy and others involved in the case.
‘We’ve already sent a few Western Australian police officers over to Jersey and the UK and that’s exactly the intent,’ he said. ‘We’re working with the Attorney-General’s Department, the Commonwealth and WA, and that paperwork is going through now so we can extradite them.’
Pleading guilty to two counts of money laundering, Deborah Karen Wolff was accused by the prosecution of moving a total of £15,500 from Jersey to the UK.
However, Advocate Frances Littler, defending, said she had been ‘used’ by Hughes – a friend of nine years – to move the cash. She added that her client thought the money was going to be used to repay debts to loansharks that Hughes had accrued following his car crash.
‘She did not suspect the source of the income was drugs,’ Advocate Littler added.
She suggested her client should serve 18 months, amounting to time served and initiating her immediate release from custody.