Famous Dark Web Vendor ‘Vanilla Surf’ Gets Sentenced to 16 Years Behind Bars

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Today Moores, a dad with two young children, bleated it was ‘unfair’ as he was locked up for 16 years and six months while Gregory was handed a sentence of 14 years and four months. Beckett was handed a sentence of eleven years and three months.

Another gang member said to be higher up the chain than Moores – named in court as Casey Miller – is wanted by police, and thought to be out of the country.

A police drugs expert said the 20 kilos of cocaine said to have been dealt by the gang could have been worth up to £2m on the streets.

Ketamine estimated to be worth £2m and amphetamine valued at about £300,000 were also said to be linked to the gang.

Police had previously tried to arrest Moores at his luxury tenth floor apartment in the West Tower block on Deansgate, but he wasn’t there.

But detectives got their man after being alerted that he had checked in for a flight bound for Dubai from Manchester in January last year.

Among the items seized from him were personalised bath robes, flannels and slippers embroidered with ‘Mooresy’.

He claimed he had ‘every intention’ of coming back to the UK, as he had bought a return ticket, and claimed was going to Dubai as there was no coronavirus lockdown in force there.

But the police investigation established that ‘Mooresy’, who used the EncroChat handle ‘Toxic Jaguar’, oversaw a huge continent-wide drugs operation, running the dark web drugs supply ‘shops’ called ‘Vanilla Surf’, ‘Staxx’ and ‘GovUk’.

“The span of this conspiracy was the length and breadth of England and Wales, and the length and breadth of the European continent,” prosecutor William Beardmore told Minshull Street Crown Court.

Over a 22 month period, one cryptocurrency wallet alone which police recovered had made transactions worth almost £3m.

Gregory and Beckett were paid by Moores, and were involved in day-to-day operations, the court heard.

Gregory, who adopted the name ‘Matte Soda’ on EncroChat, received a ‘substantial wage’ and was also given bonuses for ‘certain transactions’.

At one point Gregory was arrested for an unrelated matter, and was driving a Land Rover worth about £100,000. He told police he was a ‘stockbroker working for Bitcoin’.

“I can win a lot of money and lose a lot of money as well,” he told officers.

Beckett, known as ‘Real Cake’ on the encrypted network, ran the gang’s distribution centre.

Police made another key breakthrough by chance, after going to a house in Hazel Grove to arrest someone unconnected with the gang.

Beckett saw the officers and ‘panicked’, thinking they were coming for him. He moved a suitcase from his flat to a neighbour’s, but unluckily for Beckett it was the neighbour who police were actually interested in.

The suitcase was stuffed with a ‘large quantity’ of drugs including high purity cocaine, as well as scales and other drugs paraphernalia.

Undercover officers working to expose dealers on the dark web made test purchases of drugs, Minshull Street Crown Court was told.

One package of ecstasy tablets had Gregory’s DNA on it.

Defending Moores, Adam Watkins said the defendant had plans to ‘go straight’ and has ambitions of a career in software development.

Beckett was a ‘paid employee’ in the gang, and became involved after he lost his job as an electrician, his barrister Chudi Grant said.

Syam Soni, for Gregory, said the defendant was not involved in ‘every facet’ of the operation.

Friends and family wept in the public galley when His Honour Judge John Potter handed down long sentences to the drug-dealing trio, who were appearing in court from prison via videolink, at Minshull Street Crown Court on Thursday afternoon.

“It seems unfair,” said Andrew Moores, but he was told by the judge to ‘be quiet’ or his microphone would be turned off.

Judge Potter told the trio they each played an ‘integral role’ in the plot. He said: “In my judgement, each defendant understood the conspiracies they were part of which had little complexity to them other the way in which each conspiracy operated to supply large amounts of class A and B drugs to drug users and dealers throughout England, Wales and Europe.”

He added: “For a significant period of two years between January 2019 and January 2021 an organised crime group headed by you, Andrew Moores, and another man, Casey Miller, who remains at large, was responsible for supplying vast quantities of of both class A and B drugs throughout England, Wales and across Europe. The drugs were acquired by the organised crime group using encrypted mobile phones from bulk suppliers and then sold on by this group via three ‘shops’ established on the dark web.”

He noted at the height of the operation drugs worth £45,000 were being trafficked every day.

“On any view this is drug dealing on an industrial and commercial scale,” said Judge Potter.

The court heard Moores had 14 previous convictions and had served time for two drugs supply offences. Gregory had five previous convictions and had also served time supplying cannabis. Beckett had no previous offences to his name.

Moores, of Foxdenton Walk, Denton; Gregory, of Manley Grove, Mottram, and Beckett, of Daresbury Close, Stockport, each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A and B drugs, as well as conspiracy to export class A and B drugs. Moores also admitted money laundering.

The case was investigated by detectives from the Dark Web Operations Team at the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit, and began with information from the state-sanctioned hack of the EncroChat servers in northern France in April 2020.

The mined data showed the trio were supplying class A and B drugs online.

A number of searches were carried out at properties across Manchester with officers from Greater Manchester Police which led to the recovery drugs, cash, computers, a Rolex watch, encrypted mobile phones and cryptocurrency worth approximately £30,000.

Detectives estimate the gang earned more than £3m which they laundered using cryptocurrency and by buying luxury watches and vehicles.

After the hearing, Detective Inspector Chris McClellan said: “This was a complex investigation which involved several law enforcement agencies working together to bring down a crime group which was making substantial amounts of money supplying drugs internationally online.

“Their guilty plea is a result of the overwhelming evidence which was put in front of them, leaving them no option but to plead guilty.

“We’re committed to continuing to work with our partners to identify, disrupt and dismantle criminals causing misery and harm to our communities with their illegal drugs trade.”

The three men face a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing later this year when prosecutors will seek to claw back their ill-gotten gains.

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Written by Kofi Anash

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