Former University of Manchester students who sold more than than $1 million worth of drugs on the "dark web" are to be sentenced today.
A court heard how the gang took payment for the drugs in the electronic cryptocurrency Bitcoin and holidayed in Jamaica, the Bahamas and Amsterdam.
Inspired by Walter White - the teacher who turned to drug dealing in cult TV show Breaking Bad - the gang included pharmacology, computer science, petrochemical engineering, geology and marketing undergrads.
The operation was led by Basil Assaf, now 26, from Buckinghamshire.
Now he and four student friends face lengthy jail sentences after admitting a catalogue of offences at Manchester Crown Court.
The operation was led by Basil Assaf.
Assaf set up the gang’s account on the Silk Road, an online marketplace which ran on the Dark Web - the part of the internet unseen by ordinary browsers.
The website ran for over two-and-a-half years until the FBI shut it down.
They advertised with photographs of the drugs, a description and the price on the Silk Road, before fulfilling orders in the post.
Operating from a city centre flat, the gang dealt drugs including ecstasy, the hallucinogens LSD and 2CB, and ketamine. They were sold across Europe and to customers in America, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in Manchester.
The value of the gang’s sales was at least $1.14m, but their profits are likely to have risen exponentially because they took payment in Bitcoin - some of which prosecutors have so far been unable to trace.
- Basil Assaf, 26, was the ‘prime mover’, running the Silk Road account and preparing and posting drugs
- Geology student Elliot Hyams, 26, who had been at school with Assaf at Dr Challoner’s Grammar in Amersham, was involved in the underworld start-up, but was thrown out after Assaf ‘lost patience’ with him
- James Roden, 25, who read computer science, involved with the Silk Road account and the buying and supplying of drugs
- Jaikishen Patel, 26, who studied pharmacology, involved with the Silk Road account and the buying and supplying of druga
- Marketing student Joshua Morgan, 28, played the least role, sometimes packaging drugs for export
The group were caught out following by an FBI investigation into the Silk Road, which shut down the website after seizing its servers in Iceland.
On the same day, in October 2013, Assaf and Roden were arrested after a raid on their city centre flat in Lower Ormond Street by the National Crime Agency, a flat described as the ‘hub of the enterprise’ in court.
Defending Assaf, Alistair Webster QC, said his client got into dealing after taking drugs himself at university, and saw the dark web as a ‘safe’ way of getting hold of drugs.
Mr Webster said: “It was his view at the time of the events in question that the ubiquitous of drugs in the university that what he and his friends were doing was morally defensible.”
Hyams’ barrister, James Pickup QC, said that Assaf had taken advantage of his school friend, who he said had been bullied at school and was ‘naive’ and ‘weak willed’.
Mr Pickup claimed Hyams was ‘used’ and ‘manipulated’ by Assaf. Assaf and Hyams pleaded guilty to ten drugs offences, including conspiracy to export, import and supply controlled drugs, as well as possession with intent to supply and conspiracy to supply LSD.
Roden and Patel admitted nine drugs offences, and Morgan admitted assisting an offender.
The defendants will be sentenced today.