Three men have admitted running a dark web business selling the potentially lethal drugs fentanyl and carfentanyl to customers across the UK and worldwide.
Jake Levene, 22, Lee Childs, 45, and Mandy Christopher Lowther, 21, mixed the drugs with bulking agents and then posted them to customers throughout the UK as well as the US, Germany, Norway, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Canada, France, Singapore, Holland and Spain.
The trio set up a up a business ‘UKBargins’ on the dark web and turned over £163,474 during the indictment period - 1 December 2016 and 30 April 2017 .
Their period of activity coincided with a spike in deaths where toxicology reports showed the drugs were present.
The organised crime group (OCG) sold 2,853 items to 443 customers worldwide with 172 in the UK. Six people identified from the OCG’s UK customer lists are known to have died from fentanyl related deaths, although it cannot be said with certainty the fentanyl they took was supplied by Levene, Childs and Lowther.
The men mixed and exported fentanyl – which is up to 100 times stronger than morphine - and its analogue carfentanyl – which is 10,000 times stronger again, from an industrial unit in Peel Street, Morley, Leeds.
Levene, of Turner Close, Wakefield, controlled the unit with Lowther, of Cottingley Springs, Morley, Leeds; while Childs, of Bedale Court, Morley, Leeds, was responsible for packaging and posting the drugs to customers.
Childs was captured on Post Office cameras sending hundreds of drug packages through the mail.
Levene and Childs previously admitted exporting and supplying class A drugs and Lowther admitted the same charges today at Leeds Crown Court. They will return to court for sentencing on September 7.
They were arrested in April 2017 after National Crime Agency officers and West Yorkshire Police raided the drugs facility.
Inside, investigators discovered an office area and quantities of fentanyl, equipment including containers of chemicals, a vacuum sealer, funnels, digital scales, and distinct areas for mixing, blending and heating.
Officers also discovered 677g of pure carfentanyl which equates to millions of lethal doses.
Heavy duty gloves and two respirator masks were also found which the men wore to protect themselves while mixing and packaging the drugs.
Lowther was admitted unconscious to Leeds Accident and Emergency on 20 February 2017 and transferred to the intensive care unit.
He was in a coma and diagnosed with a hypoxic brain injury. His illness was linked to exposure to fentanyl and carfentanyl. He later recovered, but despite his near-death experience continued to supply the deadly drugs.
A laptop in the unit showed the ‘UKBargins’ site within the AlphaBay dark web market - which was taken offline following an international law enforcement operation involving the NCA.
Their website ran the message: “Welcome to UKBargins. Our products & their purity: Carfentanil – 99%. Butyr-Fenanyl – 98%. Furanyl-Fentanyl – 98%. 4-Fluroisobutyrfentanyl – 98%. U-47700 – 99%. We also have a Fentanyl HCL /// Manitol Mix & Furanyl-Fentany/// Mannitol Mix.
“I WILL NOT GIVE ANY INFORMATION ABOUT FENTANYL OR ITS ANALOGUES AS THE CUSTOMER SHOULD ALREADY OF RESERACHED THESE CHEMICALS BEFORE EVEN CONTEMPLATING USING THEM AS THEY ARE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS & LETHAL IN THE WRONG HANDS”.
Investigators recovered a “To do” list in Levene’s car which reminded him to “find new CF supplier” as well as pay his electricity bill.
Text messages showed Levene and Lowther arguing about the workload of packaging up the drugs.
Greg McKenna, regional head of investigations at the NCA, said: “This operation has resulted in the closure of an organised crime group sending horrifically dangerous drugs across the world, and the jailing of the men behind it.
“They knew exactly how lethal the drugs were but continued to sell them.
“There have been more than 120 UK deaths relating to fentanyl or carfentanyl since December 2016.
“We have taken out a main supplier but the threat from synthetic opioids remains and we will continue to respond to this UK-wide threat with our law enforcement partners.”
Detective Superintendent Pat Twiggs of West Yorkshire Police, said: “We worked closely with the NCA to investigate and then dismantle this operation.
“Following this investigation significant work has been done between partners to increase understanding of the issue and to mitigate further harm to drug users.
“That work coupled with a variety of law enforcement activity has greatly reduced the fatalities we are seeing linked to these drugs. But the problem is still very real and we need the community to come forward with information to help us. If we know about it we will take action.”