Albanian nationals Sali Hoxha, aged 34, of Witney Street, Highfield, Sheffield, and Erblin Sulaj, aged 29, of no fixed abode, were caught after a police raid on Witney Street uncovered a cannabis harvest at two adjoining properties, according to a Sheffield Crown Court hearing.
Judge Graham Reeds QC told the defendants: “Each of you chose to play a part in growing that crop for money or the promise of money or for the reduction of a debt.
"You were not used as forced labour and you would not have done it if you had not been paid. Each of you knew the scale of what was going because you had been there for some time.”
Prosecuting barrister Katy Rafter told the hearing on December 16 that police had raided one of the properties on October 19 and discovered the cannabis harvest that was linked to an adjoining property after a wall had been pulled down.
She said hydroponic cannabis grows were found in multiple rooms of both properties and the electricity had been by-passed and a total of 270 cannabis plants were seized and there was a follow-on crop.
Ms Rafter added that the potential yield was valued between £168,000 and £210,000 if sold in kilos or just under £272,000 if sold in ounces, or £423,000 if sold in one gramme deals.
Illegal immigrant Sulaj told police he had borrowed money for an operation for his mother and had travelled to the UK to find work to repay the debt but he was taken by others to Witney Street to look after the harvest. Asylum seeker Hoxha made no comment to the police.
Both defendants, who have no previous convictions, pleaded guilty to producing the class B drug cannabis.
Andrew Swaby, defending, said Sulaj had come to the UK to work and he had not intended to grow cannabis but when he realised there were no prospects he had no other means of supporting himself.
Defence barrister Michael Cane-Soothill said Hoxha had worked in the UK as a labourer and a painter and decorator but when work dried up he was taken to the cannabis harvest by others and he claimed threats were made concerning his family if he did not co-operate.
Judge Reeds told the defendants: “This was an operation capable of producing cannabis on a commercial scale. The house was virtually given over to cannabis production. Eight rooms had been converted and the electricity supply had been by-passed and there had inevitably been much financial outlay to conduct this operation.”
He added: “You were both trusted. You had each been at the house for quite some time and you had not just arrived. You were expected to work as a team. I am sure that you were each expecting financial reward whether in cash or a reduction of debts. You would not have done this otherwise.”
Judge Reeds sentenced Sulaj to 27 months of custody and Hoxha was sentenced to two years of custody.
The court heard Sulaj will eventually be liable for deportation and Hoxha is awaiting a decision on his application for asylum in the UK.