A gang of drug dealers who were caught importing cocaine and cannabis concealed inside fake yams and papaya fruit have been collectively sentenced to more than 38 years in prison.
Jarnail Singh, Tazio Heath, Luis Restrepo, Donovan Bailey, and Barrington Bennett, were identified and arrested after a Met Organised Crime Command investigation.
On 13 January 2015, officers stopped Bennett, 58, shortly after he picked up a number of boxes from a freight company in Southall .
When officers seized the boxes, they found bags of dried fruit and nuts labelled "Fancy Island Mix", but when the contents were forensically analysed, it was found they contained two kilograms of crack cocaine rocks that had been coloured orange to make it look like papaya.
Officers arrested Singh, 39, the following day after he was seen to be in convoy with Bennett and made a delivery of several other boxes at an address in Beresford Road in Mildmay Ward.
Officers executed a search warrant at the address in Beresford Road, where they arrested Restrepo, 40, and discovered what turned out to be 33.8kgs of herbal cannabis disguised as yams hidden in and amongst real yams in the boxes Singh delivered.
On March 7 2015, another shipment of 36kgs of cannabis, again disguised as yams, was seized by Border Force officers at Gatwick airport with the intended recipient for the goods being Heath, 24, at the same Southall freight company.
Further investigation linked Heath with Bailey, 50, an owner of a recording studio in Reading.
On April 13 2015, officers from Thames Valley Police carried out a search warrant at Bailey’s studio, where 22 rolls of herbal cannabis were found.
Bailey was arrested and CCTV footage seized from his studios showed Bailey meeting with Heath on 25 March and 30 March 2015, where the pair can be seen exchanging large amounts of cash.
A further 40 kilos of herbal cannabis were seized by Border Force officers at Gatwick Airport with the intended recipient again being Heath on April 29 2015, the Met Police said.
May 12 2015, saw Heath and Singh both arrested after taking possession of a further 25kgs of cannabis disguised as yams, imported from Jamaica, and delivered to the same Southall freight company the day before.
Detective Constable Catherine Pearson, from the Metropolitan Police ’s Organised Crime Command, who investigated the case, said: "This police operation successfully dismantled a sophisticated crime network that was regularly importing drugs into the UK disguised as food.
"Jarnail Singh and Tazio Heath were central to this criminal network that had gone to great lengths to conceal cocaine as papaya pieces and hide cannabis inside fake yams, in a clear bid to evade detection by UK Border Force."
Constable Pearson added: "The gang demonstrated their sophistication by using encrypted mobile devices in a bid to frustrate any police investigation but despite their efforts, we were still able to piece together enough evidence to leave them little choice other than to plead guilty at court."
Detective Sergeant Nicola Hawkins, of the Organised Crime Command, said: "I am extremely proud of the diligence and professionalism of my team that has resulted in the sentences handed down today.
"Working with our colleagues from Thames Valley Police and UK Border Force we have stopped the activities of this gang and prevented a large amount of drugs from being sold on the streets of London."
All five men were charged with various drugs offences in May 2015 and pleaded guilty to the offences below and sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court:
Singh, a company director of New Gun Wharf, and Clayhall Avenue, Ilford was sentenced to a total of 19 years imprisonment having pleaded guilty to conspiracy to importing Class A and B drugs.
Heath, an electrician of Turkey Street, Enfield, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import Class A and B drugs and conspiracy to supply Class B drugs and was sentenced to a total of seven years in jail.
Restrepo, unemployed of Beresford Road, pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with intent to supply and conspiracy to supply Class B drugs and was sentenced to seven years behind bars.
Bailey, of Palmer Park Avenue, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class B drugs and was sentenced to two years imprisonment.
Painter and decorator, Bennett, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class B drugs and was sentenced on 2 December 2016 to three years and nine months imprisonment.
Kamla Jalaf, 57, of Clayhall Avenue, Ilford, was charged in May 2015 in connection with this investigation with possession of criminal property but charges were later discontinued.
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