Dark web criminals who sold fentanyl globally from Leeds jailed

Jake Levene, Lee Childs and Mandy Lowther. Credit: NCA

Three men who ran a dark web business which sold potentially deadly drugs around the world were told their actions had brought "misery" as they were jailed.

Lee Childs, 45, Jake Levene, 23, and Mandy Lowther, 22, were told by a Leeds Crown Court judge that they had run a "sophisticated operation" involving the mass distribution of dangerous substances.

Operating under the name UKBargins, the trio sold fentanyl, a drug which is prescribed for severe pain relief and is said by the National Crime Agency (NCA) to be around 50 times stronger than heroin, as well as its analogue, carfentanyl, which is described as being considerably stronger.

The court heard how the business, which generated £163,474 in five months, sold to customers as far away as Australia, Canada, Argentina and Singapore, operating from an industrial unit in Peel Street, Morley, Leeds, where they mixed the drugs with bulking agents and packaged them.

Prosecutors said that over 2,800 packages were sent by the trio, and at least 635 grams of pure carfentanyl, which is described by some experts as being between 3,000 and 5,000 times stronger than heroin, was found at the premises following their arrests.

An exact measurement of the quantity could not be provided as forensic scientists deemed the drug, which is used to put large animals like polar bears to sleep, to be too dangerous to handle.

A raid on the premises by officers following the defendants’ arrests in April 2017 is believed to be the largest single seizure of the two drugs in Europe.

The unit the drugs were mixed. Credit: NCA

The chemicals that the trio were involved with were so strong that in February 2017 Lowther was admitted to Leeds Accident and Emergency in a coma, caused by a hypoxic brain injury linked to exposure to the two synthetic opioids.

The men had all previously admitted two counts of supplying and two counts of exporting Class A drugs between December 1, 2016 and April 30, 2017.

On Friday, Levene, of Turner Close, Wakefield, and Lowther, of Cottingley Springs, Morley, Leeds, were jailed for 16-and-a-half years each, and Childs, of Bedale Court, Morley, Leeds, was handed a 10-and-a-half-year jail term.

Delivering the sentences, Judge Mushtaq Khokhar told them: "This was a sophisticated operation. Small, I accept, but nevertheless sophisticated because one only has to look at what officers found when they raided the unit.

The judge called it a 'sophisticated operation'. Credit: NCA

"Drugs cause misery, not only on those who have an affliction to them, but to those close to them."

Paul Mitchell, prosecuting, said the trio were aware of the potentially fatal nature of the drugs they were selling, and their website ran the disclaimer: "I will not give any information about fentanyl or its analogues as the customer should already have (researched) these chemicals before even contemplating using them as they are extremely dangerous & lethal in the wrong hands."

According to the NCA, six people from their 443-strong customer list died from fentanyl-related injuries, although it could not be proved that the final, lethal doses were supplied by Levene, Childs and Lowther.

Charlton Livick died aged 33 after taking carfentanyl. Credit: PA.

One of those customers was Charlton Livick, known by his family as Charlie, who died in March 2017 at the age of 33 after taking carfentanyl.

It has never been proved that the lethal dose was supplied by the gang, but his mother Kathy Livick, 62, told how she will live with the pain of his death "until I meet my end".

Prior to the sentencing, she said: "All I want is my son back, and I can't have that, but it's good to see some justice done.”

Kathy Livick said she would live with the pain of her loss until she dies. Credit: PA

The court head how Levene, described by Michael Gomulka, his defence, as being a former aero-engineering student who enjoyed the challenge of setting up the business, was spearheading the operation.

Mr Mitchell explained how Childs had been employed by the other two, and claimed to be a cleaner when he and his colleagues were arrested on April 24 2017.

Alessandro Di Francesco, defending Lowther, explained how the defendant was a young man "without the mentality required to prevent him from falling into this activity".

Following the sentencing, Greg McKenna, regional head of investigations for the NCA, revealed that the gang was first identified in early 2017 following a spike in drug-related deaths in Yorkshire.

He said he could not overemphasise how dangerous carfentanyl is, saying: "Carfentanyl in very, very small doses is lethal."

NCA senior investigating officer 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."