TWO illegal immigrants arrested during one of Sheffield’s biggest ever drugs bust have been jailed for a total of five years - and will be deported on their release.
Chinese nationals Tian Zhang, aged 49, and Zhoneping Xue, 36, were arrested when police carried out a raid at a former Attercliffe nightclub.
The men, of no fixed address, were found in the former Fontana night-club in Attercliffe Road on September 28 this year.
The venue, formerly the Dog and Partridge pub, was Goodfellas Gentleman’s Club before it was turned into the Fontana.
Officers broke down heavy metal doors after members of the public alerted them to a funny smell coming from the building, .
They discovered the club - which was meant to be used as a Chinese karaoke bar, contained 1966 cannabis plants being grown under lights illegally hooked up to the electric supply.
Sheffield Crown Court heard the plants would be capable of producing cannabis with a street value of £1.9 million each year.
The two men, who had been working as ‘gardeners’, tried to escape from police but were arrested on a roof patio.
They both pleaded guilty to cultivating the drugs.
Nathan Moxon, defending Xue, said his client had been kidnapped in London and brought to Sheffield where he was forced to work as a slave.
Xue had paid an ‘exorbitant sum of money’ to be brought to the country nine years ago with the promise he could earn enough to keep his wife and two children who stayed in China.
But instead of finding work he was forced to become a slave for the criminal underworld.
Michael Rawlinson, defending Zhang, said his client, a father of four, did not receive a penny for his part in the massive underworld operation.
Mr Rawlinson said Zhang was in Glasgow when he approached a man he knew as ‘the Big Boss’ for work.
He was offered a job in Sheffield on a wage of £250 a week, plus food and board.
Mr Rawlinson said Zhang had previously worked for ‘Mr Big’ as a builder and did not think the work in Sheffield would be illegal.
But when he arrived he was locked in the building for a month and forced to work without pay.
Judge Peter Kelson QC jailed both men for two and half years.
He said: “There was scope to produce £2m worth of cannabis each year further flooding this city and county with this dangerous drug.
“It is important that those involved be handed lengthy sentences.”
The judge ruled the pair should be deported when they are released.