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UK: Multi-million pound cocaine smuggling gang partied in Las Vegas and blew cash in Harrods… leader also made donations to Catholic churches and a youth club

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The Liverpool Echo reports

Kingpin also made donations to Catholic churches and a youth club while trafficking huge amounts of heroin and cocaine

A gang who trafficked millions of pounds worth of heroin and cocaine were brought crashing down by their own loose lips.

Michael Barlow and his men partied in Las Vegas and blew cash in Harrods thanks to the “misery” they spread across the UK. The kingpin also made donations to Catholic churches and a youth club, funded by “the very highest level” Class A drugs.

But police had secretly bugged his BMW and were covertly filming and listening to his men at work in a luxury flat turned drugs factory. Last week, fugitive courier Liam Mills was finally brought to justice after spending the best part of a decade on the run.

Their racket was rumbled back in 2015 when Barlow, then 34, was recorded bragging in his BMW: “We’re up to our eyebrows. We’re swimming in gear.”

Joseph Graney, then 31, was described as his “right hand man”, and a third dealer, Alan Foster, then 43, was the “trusted subordinate” of the gang. They worked from an apartment on Waterside, Princes Dock, where Barlow, Graney, Foster, Graney’s twin brother Paul and Mills were secretly recorded as part of Operation Harthill.

Footage captured hundreds of thousands of pounds being counted and kilo-sized blocks of Class A drugs, but not a single fingerprint or item of DNA was found. The “forensically highly aware” gang wore latex gloves as they cut drugs with adulterants, stored cash in a microwave, and operated a drugs press.

Their product was shipped across the UK and the gang made so much money that their counting machine was once recorded operating for two hours straight. When officers sneaked into the flat on several occasions, they discovered tick lists mentioning major deals, sealed mobile phone boxes and SIM cards, boxes and drawers full of cash and took samples of drugs destined for criminals in London and the north east.

On one occasion, Foster was overheard bragging of their lucrative operation: “F***ing hell. There mustn’t be any f***ing £20 notes in f***ing Newcastle.”

When Barlow talked about a flat being raided and linked to a van, he told Joseph Graney: “We’re in big trouble. I’ve got about five people in jail.”

Paul Graney was seen with Barlow, his brother and Mills at Manchester Airport on September 3 – when they jetted off to Las Vegas and didn’t return until September 14. Their ring was estimated to have netted profits of around £1,000 per week.

Barlow holidayed in Dubai and dropped big sums in Harrods and on designer shoes for his mistress, thanks to his ill-gotten gains. But the rail recruitment boss also gifted dirty cash to churches and community projects – making donations to St Francis Xavier and St Peter’s Catholic churches, as well as Shrewsbury House youth club in Everton.

Following a series of raids in July 2016, Barlow – of Latimer Street in Vauxhall – was jailed for 16 years. Joseph Graney, of Snowdon Lane in Vauxhall, received 14 years and Foster, of Marnell Close in Vauxhall, was imprisoned for eight years.

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https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/multi-million-pound-drugs-gang-26134544



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Fourteen People Charged in International Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering Scheme

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NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – May 30, 2024

SAN DIEGO – A federal grand jury has charged 14 people with participating in an international multi-million-dollar cocaine trafficking and money laundering scheme.

According to an indictment unsealed today, plus additional information in a related search warrant, the alleged leader of the trafficking organization, Jesus Ruiz-Sandoval, managed the smuggling and distribution of large quantities of cocaine from Tijuana into the United States, and the movement of cash proceeds back to Mexico. Ruiz is a United States citizen who fled the U.S. for Mexico several years ago, in violation of his terms of supervised release for a prior federal drug-trafficking crime (Case number 08-cr-00713-DSF in the Central District of California).

The search warrant said Ruiz worked closely with other co-conspirators, including John Joe Soto and Esteban Sinhue Mercado, who are also U.S. citizens currently residing in Mexico. The alleged conspiracy involved smuggling large multi-kilo quantities of cocaine from Tijuana through San Diego to Los Angeles. From there, commercial trucks transported the cocaine from Los Angeles to the Mid-Atlantic for distribution in the Eastern United States. Commercial trucks also transported cash proceeds from the cocaine sales back across the United States to Los Angeles, where it was packaged and loaded into cars that couriers drove through San Diego and into Tijuana, delivering the proceeds to Ruiz there. To date, investigators have seized more than $5 million in cash proceeds and more than 130 kilos of cocaine.

“This office targets sophisticated international trafficking cells by hitting them where it hurts ­— their wallets,” said U.S. Attorney Tara K. McGrath. “Following the money takes you to the heart of a trafficking organization and this prosecution aims to drive a stake through it.” U.S. Attorney McGrath expressed her gratitude to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Hawthorne Police Department, which provided invaluable partnership in this investigation.

“One of the pillars of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is to identify and dismantle international drug trafficking organizations who poison our communities,” said Christopher Davis, Acting Special Agent in Charge for HSI San Diego. “Throughout this investigation and with the unwavering support from our law enforcement partners, we further discovered their involvement in a money laundering scheme. This indictment serves as a warning to those believing they can remain undetected by HSI – our message is clear. You will be found and you will be brought to justice.”

“This indictment marks a significant milestone in our relentless pursuit of justice against transnational criminal organizations. By leveraging collaborative efforts, CBP alongside our partner agencies are able to target the root causes of crime and dismantle organized criminal enterprises,” said Sidney K. Aki, Director of Field Operations for San Diego Field Office. “Ultimately, this unified approach promotes public safety, reduces the flow of illegal drugs and laundered funds, and strengthens the resilience of communities against these threats.”

This investigation is one of two into Ruiz. Several months after a grand jury in San Diego first indicted Ruiz, a separate grand jury in the Central District of California indicted him and others for a separate, but similar, international trafficking scheme. See United States v. Sandoval et al., 24-CR-008 AB (C.D. Cal.). The prosecutions of Ruiz and others indicted in both cases will proceed in coordinated fashion.

Another defendant, Ricardo Miranda-Beltran (aka Ricardo Miranda-Benitez), appeared Tuesday for his initial appearance on the indictment. Miranda was arrested in the Eastern District of California and ordered detained, and then ordered to appear in San Diego on these charges.

DEFENDANTS                                             Case Number 23cr1574 AJB                                        

*Jose Ruiz-Sandoval                                      Age: 45                                   Mexico

*John Joe Soto                                                Age: 43                                   Mexico

*Esteban Sinhue Mercado                              Age: 24                                   Mexico

Brittany Mangrum                                          Age: 36                                   Van Nuys, CA

Liliana Ruvalcaba-Gonzalez                          Age: 25                                   Anaheim, CA

Yessenia Lazo                                                 Age: 23                                   Los Angeles, CA

Ricardo Miranda-Beltran                               Age: 57                                   Bakersfield, CA

Edwin Rafael Hernandez                                Age: 32                                   Pasadena, CA

*Denotes fugitives who are not in custody

**Additional defendants’ names are redacted and not listed here

SUMMARY OF CHARGES

Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances – Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a) & 846

Maximum Penalty: Life in custody, $10 million fine, and a life term of supervised release

Conspiracy to Import Controlled Substances – Title 21, United States Code, Sections 952, 960, and 963

Maximum Penalty: Life in custody, $10 million fine, and a life term of supervised release

Consp. to Launder Monetary Instruments – Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1956(a)(2)(B)(i) & (h)

Maximum Penalty:- Twenty years in custody, $500,000 fine or twice the laundered amount, and a 3-year term of supervised release

Bulk Cash Smuggling – Title 31, United States Code, Section 5332

Maximum Penalty: Five years in custody, $250,000 fine, and a 3-year term of supervised release

AGENCIES

Homeland Security Investigations

Customs and Border Protection

Los Angeles Police Department, Transnational Organized Crime Section

Hawthorne Police Department

*The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks



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Lebanese authorities seize 8kg of cocaine at Beirut airport

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Officials detain suspect who had previously served a six-year sentence for drug smuggling

Lebanese authorities said they had detained a man caught with about 8kg of cocaine at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport.

The man, a Brazilian national with Lebanese origins, had sought to conceal the drugs in a hidden compartment in his suitcase.

He had previously served a six-year sentence in a Lebanese prison on drug trafficking charges and was released in 2022.

Drug busts are relatively common at Lebanon’s only international airport, with authorities stepping up efforts to crack down on the trade in recent years amid pressure from countries in the Gulf.

In January, airport authorities stopped two Brazilian travellers who had ingested 2kg of cocaine in more than 150 capsules.

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https://www.thenationalnews.com/mena/lebanon/2023/12/30/lebanese-authorities-seize-8kg-of-cocaine-at-beirut-airport/

 



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Malta: Racehorse tests positive for cocaine and other drugs after winning Marsa race

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A racehorse tested positive for cocaine and other drugs after it won a race last month.

Six-year-old mare Halina Jibay was found with cocaine in its body when it outperformed nine other horses on the Marsa racecourse on October 1, tests carried out in a French doping laboratory revealed.

In a decision issued by the Malta Racing Club this week, the mare’s owner was suspended from all races for two years and fined €350.

A doping test result issued by the Laboratoire des Courses Hippiques and seen by Times of Malta confirms a urine sample taken from the horse on the day of the race contained cocaine, stanozolol (a synthetic steroid), ketamine (a form of tranquilliser), and methamphetamine (a stimulating drug), among other similar substances.

At least two of the substances – including cocaine – constitute among the most serious rule breaks according to the Malta Racing Club’s regulations, and the rules state such cases must also be reported to the police since the possession of these substances is illegal.

The Malta Racing Club last night said the horse owner was given until today to contest the findings and present a counter-analysis.

Should the owner not contest the findings, then the case will be reported to the police.

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/racehorse-tests-positive-cocaine-drugs-winning-marsa-race.1066917



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