Three members of a Birmingham-based gang supplying class A drugs and sourcing deadly firearms have been sentenced following a National Crime Agency investigation.
Danyal Aziz, 29, from Stechford, and Michael Earp, 32, from Shard End, were part of an organised criminal gang who were supplying cocaine and heroin, both locally and around the UK.
They also used lethal guns to intimidate their rivals and customers alike. They stashed a Skorpion submachine gun at the home of Earp’s cousin, Nicole Rhone, 29, in Bordesley.
The NCA started an investigation into their criminal activities through their use of encrypted messaging service Encrochat in 2020.
Aziz and Earp believed their messages couldn’t be tracked, but were identified by NCA officers after the platform was taken down by international policing partners.
Investigators painstakingly examined in excess of 22,000 messages sent to and from Aziz and Earp to attribute their ‘handles’.
Aziz, using the handle ‘Lushmace’, and Earp, using the handle ‘Kneetown’, sent and received images of bullets compatible with the Skorpion weapon. In one message, Aziz talks about using a gun against a customer who owed him money. He said: “I got 50 sweets [bullets] on me and strap [gun] by my yard, I feel like doing a madness right now”.
In others, he alluded to how much money he was making from his criminal operation and messaged criminal associates about buying as many kilos of cocaine he could in anticipation of the price rising during Covid lockdown restrictions.
Earp was controlled by Aziz, who sent him to various locations in the UK to pick up or drop off drugs, sort them for distribution, and carry out stock checks of their illegal commodities.
Earp had a secret hide in his car behind the radio where drugs were stored on his journeys.
The pair rented a separate flat in Birmingham, which they used solely to store the drugs so they could distance themselves.
Rhone’s house was also used as a storage facility for the gang, where she hid the Skorpion under her bed. The weapon was loaded with a compatible magazine and bullets and more ammunition was found in a wardrobe in a child’s bedroom.
Aziz, Earp and Rhone were arrested by the NCA between May and July 2020. They were found guilty of drugs and firearms offences on 1 June after a six-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court.
They were sentenced at the same court today. Aziz received 33 years’ imprisonment, Earp received 26 years’ imprisonment and Rhone received five years’ imprisonment.
NCA Branch Commander Mick Pope said: “These people made up a dangerous organised crime group, who were heavily involved in the importation and sale of class A drugs in Birmingham and around the UK.
“Aziz was a major player, orchestrating the movement of more than 40 kilos of heroin and 52 kilos of cocaine in just three months. These drugs are a corrosive threat, bringing in a huge amount of revenue for criminals who do not care about the devastation they cause.
“Our investigation has also taken a deadly, working submachine gun out of the hands of this group, who were actively working to acquire more weapons to scare and intimidate their customers and competition.
“The NCA is committed to protecting the public and will continue to pursue violent organised criminals who trade in illegal drugs and firearms.”
Kelly Matthews, CPS Unit Head, said: “Today’s sentencing marks the end of a case which has seen the head of an organised crime group jailed for 33 years.
“In the mistaken belief that they were protected by using encrypted messaging, the gang organised for large amounts of class A drugs to flood our streets.
“They also had access to a lethal submachine gun which had it been used, could have had potentially terrible consequences for innocent members of the public.
“The length of today’s sentence reflects the severity of these crimes, and the potential damage that drugs and weapons can do in our communities.
“This case is an excellent example of the CPS working jointly with the NCA to bring a group of dangerous criminals to justice.”