A south Warwickshire man who used Bitcoin and encrypted phones to arrange the importation of huge quantities of cocaine and ecstasy made over £600,000 from his illegal activity.
Joe Richens’s sophisticated one-man operation had come crashing down after packages of drugs were intercepted hidden in a children’s game and coffee containers.
Richens, 32, of Warwick Road, Kineton, was jailed at Warwick Crown Court for 11-and-a-half years.
He pleaded guilty to conspiring to evade the prohibition on importing drugs, offering to supply class A drugs, possessing MDMA with intent to supply it and money laundering.
A confiscation hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act was adjourned for an investigation into his finances.
And on the day there was to be a contested hearing over the findings of police financial investigators, his barrister Alex Leach QC said the figures had been agreed.
Prosecutor Martin Liddiard said Richens’s benefit from his illegal activity, carried out to fund his gambling on stocks and shares, was £612,442.
And he had assets valued at £17,895.70 plus further ‘hidden assets’ estimated to amount to another £15,000.
Recorder Eugene Egan ordered Richens to pay the total of £32,895.70 within three months, or face a further nine months in jail – after which the money will still have to be paid.
During the original hearing Mr Liddiard said: “He was the principal player at the top of an organisation in which he has acted as an importer of controlled drugs and has then proceeded to distribute those drugs.
“His methods were designed to keep the involvement of others to a minimum, using crypto-currency, the use of the dark web and encrypted devices.
“He has been involved in sourcing and supplying significant quantities of class A drugs, principally cocaine and MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, for some six years.”
Richens finally came to the attention of the police in February 2018 after a package addressed to him at a postal collection depot in Alcester was intercepted at Coventry airport.
Mr Liddiard said the package appeared to contain four Lavazza coffee containers, which alerted suspicion because it seemed to be an expensive way of buying coffee.
It turned out that the containers held 6,944 MDMA tablets and 280 grams of cocaine of a very high purity, together worth a total of around £100,000.
Enquiries revealed that there had been four similar deliveries in November and December the previous year and one in January that year, which Mr Liddiard suggested it was reasonable to infer had contained similar quantities of drugs.
Richens was also linked to three other mail companies one of which had become suspicious and contacted UK Border Force.
The seal had been broken on a children’s game and screws on it had been tampered with – and when it was opened packages containing 263 grams of MDMA and 121 grams of cocaine were found.
“We can’t say how many other deliveries there may have been, but on just the 13 we know about ,it is reasonable to infer quantities of at least half a kilo up to three-and-a-half kilos per delivery, imported and distributed. So that is six-and-a-half up to 40 kilos in total.”
Richens was arrested at his place of work at Infotech Solutions, and three phones were seized from him, together with a USB stick and the key to a room at the Travelodge in Alcester.
In the room, which he had booked for two weeks, officers found 576 MDMA tablets, together with scales, bags and a vacuum sealing machine.
The phone and the USB stick were encrypted and password-protected, and Richens would not reveal the access codes – but a conversation was found on one phone relating to him paying £63,245 in return for Bitcoin.
Mr Liddiard pointed out that over the period covered by the indictment Richens had earned £130,000 from his job – but more than £716,000 had gone through his bank account.
Mr Leach said: “There was a substantial financial gain, but that was lost because of his addiction to gambling.
“This is an intelligent defendant experienced in information technology who was involved in a sophisticated form of gambling in stocks and shares, just as liable to result in addiction and loss and other forms of gambling.
“He became immersed in it, and to support it he became involved in importing class A drugs.”
Jailing Richens, Judge Anthony Potter had told him: “Drugs spread wholesale misery to families up and down the United Kingdom.
“It is plain you did make and intended to make considerable amounts of money. The fact that you chose to spend that money playing the markets is very little mitigation.”