Three men who ran a dark web business selling the potentially lethal drugs fentanyl and its analogue carfentanyl to customers across the UK and worldwide, have been jailed for a total of 43 and a half years.
Jake Levene, 22, Lee Childs, 45, and Mandy Christopher Lowther, 21, were sentenced today at Leeds Crown Court after pleading guilty to exporting and supplying class A drugs.
The organised crime group (OCG) mixed fentanyl – which is up to 100 times stronger than morphine - and its analogue carfentanyl – which is 10,000 times stronger, with bulking agents at an industrial unit in Peel Street in Morley, Leeds.
-> Three men who ran dark web site from Leeds selling deadly fentanyl drug worldwide get 43 years jailThe drugs would then be sold over the dark web under the business name ‘UKBargins’.
They sold 2,853 items to 443 customers worldwide with 172 in the UK. Between December 2016 and April 2017 they turned over £163,474.
NCA investigators identified that six British people from the OCG’s customer list have died from issues related to fentanyl consumption, although it cannot be said with certainty the fentanyl they took was supplied by Levene, Childs and Lowther.
In total, 2.6kg of carfentanyl was recovered from the warehouse which equates to millions of lethal doses.
NCA Senior Investigating Officer Graham Roberts said: “Fentanyl and carfentanyl are extremely potent, the latter having no medical uses for humans.
“Not only is it potentially lethal for those taking it, these drugs pose a serious danger to all those that come into contact with them, be that first responders like law enforcement and medical staff, or in this case, postal staff.”
How the dark web site worked
A laptop in the office area of the unit showed the ‘UKBargins’ site within the AlphaBay dark web market - which was taken offline following an international law enforcement operation involving the NCA in 2017.
Their website ran the message: “I WILL NOT GIVE ANY INFORMATION ABOUT FENTANYL OR ITS ANALOGUES AS THE CUSTOMER SHOULD ALREADY OF RESERACHED THESE CHEMICALS BEFORE EVEN CONTEMPLATING USING THEM AS THEY ARE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS & LETHAL IN THE WRONG HANDS.”
Levene and Lowther who controlled the drug facility, were sentenced to 16 and a half years each. Childs was responsible for packaging and posting the drugs to customers and received ten and a half years.
On their release from prison, all three men must adhere to strict conditions under a Serious Crime Prevention Order, including restrictions on virtual currency accounts, possession and trade in chemicals, and prohibition on selling and possessing drug manufacturing equipment.
-> Leeds school quashes Facebook rumours of teacher's arrestIf the orders are breached, they could face up to a further five years in prison.
Graham Roberts added: “Childs, Lowther and Levene knew these drugs were life-threatening yet they continued to sell them for their own financial gain.
“The lengthy jail terms handed down to them today are a reflection on their dangerous and careless actions.
“This operation shut down their business, therefore taking out a key international supplier of the chemicals.
“However, the threat from synthetic opioids remains and the NCA works with law enforcement partners, using all the tools at our collective disposal to tackle this worldwide threat.”
Detective Superintendent Pat Twiggs of West Yorkshire Police, said: “I welcome the sentencing of Childs, Lowther and Levene for their role in manufacturing and distributing potentially lethal illegal drugs from the heart of our communities in West Yorkshire.
“While we cannot prove that the specific batches of fentanyl and carfentanil they sold from Morley caused deaths directly, both kinds of substance are linked to many fatalities.
“We worked closely with the NCA to investigate and then dismantle this operation and I think the sentences given to these persons reflect the danger their activity posed.”
Kathy Livick, whose son Charlton lost his life aged 33, said: "If I knew that one person had decided not to take a drug off the dark web, or indeed a drug at a concert, or a festival, that they didn't know the potency of, or the dose of, that would be enough for me."
The trio were arrested in April 2017 after their drug facility was raided by officers from the National Crime Agency and West Yorkshire Police.
Amongst the items seized was a packet containing 440g of pure carfentanyl – the single largest seizure of the drug to date in Europe.