Two men who recruited youngsters to sell crack cocaine for them as part a major drug supply conspiracy have been jailed for a total of 15 years.
Former Leeds Rhinos Academy player Craig Vines and Mark Bateman ran a “professional and commercial” network of drug dealers who supplied the class A drug to addicts across Wakefield.
Leeds Crown Court heard how they operated a phone line and employed 13 drug runners, several of them under the age of 18.
Drug deals were often done at a user’s home in the presence of children. Deals were also done at recreation grounds where youngsters were playing nearby.
Vines, 27, of Potter Avenue, Lupset, was jailed for nine years yesterday, and Bateman, 27, of Gervase Road, Horbury, was jailed for six years after they pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply crack cocaine.
They were caught during Operation Grassland, in which undercover officers posed as drug users in a bid to identify dealers. Several runners employed by Vines and Bateman have already been dealt with by the courts.
Michael Greenhalgh, for Vines, said his client had been a promising rugby league player as a youngster. He had represented his county at teenage level and signed professional forms but his sporting career had been ruined after he was involved in two car crashes.
The court heard Bateman had played a lesser role in the conspiracy, being described as his “lieutenant”. He had become involved to fund his own drug habit.
Insp Richard Close of the Wakefield Central Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “Members of our communities have concerns that we never manage to topple those at the top of the tree. We have shown that with the significant sentences of nine years and six years given to Vines and Bateman that we do dismantle organised criminality and we take all information very seriously.
“Residents within the Wakefield Central NPT area should be proud of the information they have given us, as it has assisted us greatly in arresting 200 offenders in the most recent phase of Grassland, which began in September last year.”