The ringleaders of an organised crime group which supplied drugs to county lines gangs have been jailed for a combined total of more than 40 years.
Christopher Golding (pictured above left) headed up the Harlow-based network, which smuggled cocaine in containers through ports before selling it on to gangs supplying west Essex, Hertfordshire, London and Suffolk.
The operation was estimated to have earned them at least £500,000 which was stashed in Bitcoin or laundered through the pub Golding ran as a licensee.
Officers started an investigation into the group after members of the public reported seeing drug dealing taking place.
Two of the group members, Lee Collett and Lee Wilkinson, were arrested in May 2018.
As officers progressed their enquiries, they began identifying main players higher up the chain, eventually leading them to Golding.
Then last year an international operation - led in the UK by the National Crime Agency – saw the take down of the encrypted communications platform EncroChat.
Lee Wilkinson and Adam Dalby
The secure mobile phone instant messaging was primarily used by criminals to co-ordinate and plan criminal activities including the distribution of illicit commodities and money laundering.
Messages obtained from infiltration of EncroChat provided further evidence of the scale of the drugs operation being run by Golding and dated back to Christmas Day 2017.
He was arranging bulk sales of cocaine, charging £41,000 for a kilogram.
It was also evident he was using Bitcoin as a form of payment and was laundering money through the crypto currency.
Financial investigators, working with colleagues from the Eastern Region Serious Operations Unit, identified he had transferred more than £120,000 into Bitcoin accounts in 2020.
Detective Chief Inspector Lewis Basford, of the Serious Violence Unit, said:
“The extra evidence secured from the EncroChat messages was the final nail in the coffin for Golding and his key associates.
“With this information and the wealth of evidence officers had already secured throughout this complex investigation, they had nowhere to hide and no option but to plead guilty at court.”
The investigation culminated in dawn raids at 18 addresses in Harlow and one in Haverhill, Suffolk, on 8 October last year. More than 200 officers were involved in the warrants.
David Wilkinson and Robert Aldred
More than £100,000 in cash, assets and weapons, as well as £120,000 worth of cocaine was seized. Not all of the money has been counted due to how it is handled as part of the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Golding, 39 of Hart Road, Harlow, was among seven men who admitted conspiracy to supply a class A drug when they appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court on 24 March.
The others were:
Christopher Lee Collett, 37, of Perry Spring, Harlow Robert Aldred, 30, of Pittmans Field, Harlow Agirdas Gustaitis Agirdas Gustaitis, 31, of Meadow Court, Harlow Stuart Thurgood, 39, of Morley Grove, Harlow David Wilkinson, 36, of Primrose Hill, Haverhill Lee Wilkinson, 38, of Parsonage, Leys, Harlow Adam Dalby, 36, of Wedgwood Drive, Harlow
Stuart Thurgood (pictured above right) was Golding’s right-hand man in the criminal network. Brothers Lee and David Wilkinson oversaw the day-to-day running of the drugs line.
Algirdas Gustaitas and Lee Collet
All eight men were sentenced yesterday and today May at Chelmsford Crown Court:
Golding was given a 12-year prison sentence; Thurgood was handed eight years in jail; Lee Wilkinson was sentenced to six years and eight months; Adam Dalby received a sentence of six years and eight months; David Wilkinson was given four years and eight months in prison; Robert Aldred was jailed for two years and eight months; Algirdas Gustaitis was sentenced to two years and four months; Lee Collet was given a two year sentence;
At the sentencing hearing the judge praised the police investigation and the prosecutor in the case.
Officers preparing to carry out the warrants last October
Officers carried out a series of warrants across Harlow
DCI Basford said:
“What was unusual about this particular organised crime group was the key players were virtually all local to Harlow yet were supplying drugs gangs operating across London and three counties.
“The scale of their operation was huge and we estimate they were selling around 3kg of cocaine a week to about ten county lines gangs.
“The criminal network attempted to conceal their profits using cryptocurrency and tried to evade the notice of police by using encrypted messaging.
“But the tenacity of our specialist teams and colleagues in other law enforcement agencies ensured there was nowhere left for them to hide.
“Taking out Golding’s crime group is a major blow in drying up the supply to county lines gangs.
“We are targeting the chain at every level to dismantle drugs networks and make it even harder for them to operate.
“By taking out these links in the chain, we are also helping to protect vulnerable adults and children who these criminals exploit, groom and use for their own financial gain.”
Tens of thousands of pounds in cash was seized
Councillor Joel Charles, Deputy Leader of Harlow Council, said:
"This operation is an example of how Essex Police, the National Crime Agency and other law enforcement can work together to bring down sophisticated organised crime networks. County lines drug trafficking has no place in Harlow.
"This successful operation has taken the ringleaders of a local gang off our streets and landed another blow against organised crime in the East of England.
"The impact on communities as a result of county lines gang activity is devastating and vulnerable people, including children, can often be coerced to carry out the bidding of such criminal networks.
"Making sure the ringleaders of these types of gangs face justice keeps our streets safe, disrupts the illegal drug supply chain and means fewer vulnerable people are trapped in a life of crime.
"The council’s community safety team played a prominent role in helping to prepare for and ensure the success of this complex operation.
"Harlow is a safer place as a result of the council, Essex Police and national law enforcement agencies working in partnership to stamp out organised crime.
"The council will always support the proactive tactics employed by Essex Police to confront those who are involved in and benefit from organised crime.”
Officers also seized weapons
Twelve people who were arrested as part of the investigation remain under investigation.