UK gang jailed for importing cocaine in fake yams
Gang members who imported drugs in to the UK hidden in fake Jamaican yams have been jailed.
Ringleader Ronnie Melius, 45, of Grays in Essex, was sentenced to 24 years, after a trial at Reading Crown Court.
Shane Brady, 36, Richard Terrelong, 38, both of London, homeless Manley Holness, 45, and Danny Williams, 49, of Ilford, admitted importing drugs.
They were jailed for 10, eight, 15 and 11 years respectively. A sixth man, Anthony Thomas will be sentenced later.
Thomas, 43, of no fixed address, was found guilty along with Melius of illegally importing drugs.
The court heard the drugs were imported by a seemingly legitimate logistics company which oversaw five separate consignments of illegal drugs.
The drugs were hidden in imitation Jamaican yams made of fibreglass, the jury was told.
Melius claimed to be shipping foodstuffs into the UK from the Caribbean, but had in fact imported more than 1.7 tonnes of cannabis and cocaine thought to worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
An investigation by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) began when 14kg (30lb) of cocaine and 70kg (154lb) of herbal cannabis was seized by the UK Border Agency at Heathrow in December 2011.
The drugs were removed by officers and then the fake vegetables were sent on their way, with Brady and Terrelong arriving at the airport to collect them.'Audacious' operation
It was not until the pair took the yams to an industrial estate in Grays that SOCA officers moved in as the gang were unloading a van.
SOCA's regional head of investigations Paul Jenkins, said: "Melius is a significant figure in international drug trafficking.
"He and the others sentenced played a key role in importing cocaine and cannabis into the UK, and attempted to manipulate the legitimate trade in fresh produce to do so."
Peter Avery, of the UK Border Force, said: "This was an audacious attempt to import significant quantities of cocaine and cannabis into the UK."