Operation Muzzle is the most ‘sophisticated drugs importation conspiracy’ South Yorkshire Police have ever investigated.
Officers seized cocaine worth £4.5 million but detectives estimate 200 kilos of high purity cocaine was smuggled in to the UK in total, with an estimated street value of £25m.
The drugs were sold across Sheffield, Barnsley, the north east and north west.
Those at the top of the chain lived a cash-rich high life – with high-powered cars, luxury holidays in exotic locations, business class flights, high-end shopping and top gym membership.
Police worldwide were involved in the investigation which took South Yorkshire officers to America, Spain and the Netherlands.
Defendants were extradited from Spain and Amsterdam.
The 18-month operation by South Yorkshire Police was launched in August 2011 after Barnsley drug dealer Paul Lowe was caught and jailed for 14 years for supplying Class A and B Drugs.
Detective Inspector Craig Jackson, who led the investigation, said the arrest triggered a covert operation to find out where Lowe was getting his drugs.
Police bugged Lowe’s car and the plot began to unravel.
DI Jackson said: “It revealed the extent and the level of criminality the men were involved in and links to individuals abroad and in London who were importing high purity cocaine.
“Paul Robinson sat at the top of the Barnsley and Sheffield organised crime group.
“But he was also involved with Michael Dyson, who was from Barnsley and had been living in Holland since 2006.”
The men imported cocaine from Mexico, hidden in discs concealed in hydraulic scissor lifts.
They set up fictitious companies as a front for their illegal activities and ran the whole operation like a business.
In total, six consignments were imported in August 2010, December 2010, June 2011, July 2011 and two in August 2011.
The plot was masterminded by Frank Babar, a German businessman, who used numerous aliases to conceal his true identity.
DI Jackson said: “They were distributing Class A, B and C drugs in vast volumes and accounting for them using the spreadsheets that were recovered from their computers.”
An accountant kept the encrypted spreadsheets and pie charts up to date daily.
DI Jackson added: “It’s something in my experience I have never come across.
“The thing that sets it apart is the sophistication of those involved.
“They conducted their activities in an organised and sophisticated manner not dissimilar to the way a small or medium sized business would have been run.
“It was all around profit, loss and the movement of stock, but realistically what they were involved in was large-scale distribution of Class A and B drugs.
“The trafficking of drugs has a dramatic impact on our communities and is a blight on society as a whole.”
He added: “The documents told us who was selling the most drugs and doing the most business – they were even given bonuses for good performance.
“They had code names for their customers and those selling the drugs on.
“It revealed an awful lot about how they operated on a day-to-day basis, completely under the radar of the police.”
Gang members could invest in the business and get a return.
“People had the ability to invest in the organised crime group, putting their money in and being involved in generating the income,” said DI Jackson.
Spreadsheets, pie charts and share prices dating back to 2004 were recovered by police.
The men originally gave each other nicknames of characters from The Wire – an American television drama about police dismantling a drugs empire in Baltimore.
DI Jackson said: “They obviously got bored of The Wire. The group then decided to change their names to characters from the Vietnam war film Full Metal Jacket.
“However, the hierarchy of the group could be deciphered by the police due to the nicknames that they gave themselves being similar to the rank structure of the characters in the film.”
August 2011 – 40 kilos of cocaine from a safe house in Chesterfield
Jan 2012 – lift at Mexico airport containing 48 kilos of cocaine
Battersea safehouse – 40 kilos of cocaine
Kubrick, the director – Richard Stead
The Colonel (right hand man) – Paul Robinson
Hartmann Sgt – Frazer Guest
Cowboy – Jake Arnold
Joker – Joseph Fawcett
Payback – Tristan Clarke
Mission – drugs
Saigon – Sheffield
The Strip – Ecclesall Road
Hollywood – Manchester
The Paparazzi/The NVA (North Vietnamse Army) – the police
Facts and figures
9 pleaded guilty
3 went to trial
1 outstanding case pending
Number of Exhibits – 5,281
Number of statements – 16,094
Number of witnesses – 223