A cocaine dealer from North Shields who used the alias "Greggs Pastie" in encrypted chats with his right hand man, has been jailed for 12-and-a-half years for conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis.
Christopher Riley thought he was safe to communicate freely on the EncroChat platform but the conversation was infiltrated by police.
The messages showed that in two months, Riley and right-hand-man Darren Johnson had bought and moved on an estimated 15kg of 87-89% pure cocaine, making more than £415,000 in cash.
The pair have been jailed for a total of 22 years at Newcastle Crown Court.
Jessica Slaughter, prosecuting, said: "This is an EncroChat case. In 2020 they were using the encrypted EncroChat platform, believing their conversations to be anonymous. They were involved in large-scale drug supply as part of an organised crime group."
The court heard Riley was using two handles, including "Greggs Pastie" while Johnson was known as "Foul Snail".
Messages showed Riley was taking a leading role in organising the acquisition of large amounts of high-purity cocaine in multi-kilo batches to supply to others.
He was operating at a "safe distance typical of those higher up the chain", using Johnson as his right-hand-man to do the riskier hands-on activities.
Johnson would distribute smaller amounts to dealers and he kept a list to track the cocaine and cash.
He also used a safe house to store the drugs. He dealt in one kilogram "jobs" at a time and supplied to trusted individuals on a regular basis. The court heard Riley paid Johnson £900 a week for his services.
The chats also revealed the pair had discussed giving up dealing in cocaine and setting up cannabis farms as they were viewed as more profitable and less risky.
Riley flew to Dubai from Glasgow on a one-way ticket in April 2020 and when he returned to Newcastle Airport, he was arrested. At the same time Johnson, who was under surveillance, was also arrested at his home.
As that happened, a woman was seen running from his home with a white carrier bag, which was found to contain cannabis worth thousands of pounds along with a debtors list. Further drugs were found in his house.
At Riley's home, police found cryptocurrency passwords and he had been moving money in that form. There was also £3,500 cash.
Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis and Johnson also admitted possessing cocaine and cannabis with intent to supply.
Riley, 35, of Washington Terrace, North Shields, was jailed for 12-and-a-half years while Johnson, 49, of Frosterley Place, Newcastle, got nine-and-a-half years.
Riley's barrister said he was "not at the top of the chain". The court heard he is viewed by those who know him as honest, hard-working and caring and there was "disbelief" when people found out what he had been up to.
Johnson's barrister said he had helped for "comparatively modest reward" and that his prison sentence will cause his family "pain and distress".
Speaking after sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Marc Michael said: “This is a great result for the force, and for our communities, who are sick of the harm being caused by illegal drugs and the organised criminals pushing their sale.
"Riley has made a comfortable living and significant sums of cash by instructing others, like Johnson, to get their hands dirty by selling harmful, addictive drugs to street dealers, which he acquired on a large scale.
“Believing he was above the law, he operated in the shadows using encrypted devices to hide his offending – but however clever these offenders think they are, the law will always catch up with them.
"Thanks to the dedication and professionalism of all officers involved, a detailed case was presented before the courts leaving Riley and Johnson little choice but to admit their guilt."
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