Two men sentenced to prison this week are believed to have smuggled more pot into the United Kingdom than any drug kingpins before them. At least any who had ever been prosecuted. The two rather ordinary-looking men pictured above don’t seem to fit the stereotype of frightening drug lords. Yet they were convicted of smuggling 28 tons of cannabis into the U.K. over the past eight years.
That’s about the weight of six typical cars, or enough cannabis to roll two joints for every single person in the U.K. The “street value” of that much pot in Great Britain is estimated at £84 million — or almost $124 million in United States currency.
Steven McDonald, 32, was sentenced to eight years in prison, and John Wright, 66, was hit with a nine-year, four-month sentence by Luton Crown Court Judge Richard Foster, who admitted to some confusion over what the appropriate sentences should be — because the amount if drugs involved was a staggering 140 times more than the maximum specified in British sentencing rules.
“These men were involved in drug smuggling on a truly industrial scale over a number of years,” said U.K. Organized Crime Unit Detective Inspector Steve Miles.
McDonald and Wright, according to prosecutors, were part of a complex and multifaceted scheme to import the massive amount of cannabis, store it, and move it around the country.
Much of the cannabis was imported from Holland disguised as shipments of “ceramic tiles” and “laminate wood flooring.”
The smugglers often transported the drugs by tricking unsuspecting trucking companies into hauling the cannabis from place to place, telling the truckers that they were carrying legitimate merchandise, concealing the pot in containers with false bottoms.
The drug smugglers rented storage space using a false identity, obtaining a passport in the name of a child who had died in infancy.
But in April of last year, police quietly intercepted a shipment, covertly replacing the cannabis as it came into the Harwich docks with a phony shipment — along with a tracking device.
Undercover officers were then able to trace the shipment to its final destination, where there were able to break up the gargantuan drug operation.
Lawyers for the two convicted men protested that their clients were not the ringleaders of the sophisticated operation, but rather just flunkies who fell into the pot smuggling operation as a way to finance their own addictions to harder drugs such as cocaine.
Judge Foster agreed that there were likely higher-ups who ultimately smuggled the pot, but only McDonald and Wright were in front of the court — so they were the ones going to jail.