A cocaine cartel at the centre of a £750,000 drugs plot which dragged in Championship footballer Michael Chopra has been jailed for 34 years.
The Blackpool striker gave evidence in court for the gang claiming a £50,000 bundle found in the footwell of a car was money being used to pay off his gambling debts.
The debts were at the centre of the drugs trial, where at an earlier hearing the footballer told Newcastle Crown Court his family came under threat while he struggled to pay back cash he had blown through his £2million gambling addiction.
Blackpool’s Michael Chopra, seen here in a match against Doncaster Rovers on Saturday, was dragged into a trial involving a drugs gang
The former Newcastle United footballer described how he blew the money after getting hooked on gambling as a teenager on the Newcastle United team bus.
But the cash was linked to a ‘cocaine factory’ which had been set up in a Sunderland flat.
At an earlier hearing Chopra described how he was unable to loan money from the bank and borrowed money from shadowy figures in Glasgow.
John Somerville (left) and Daniel Chisholm were sentenced to 12 years for their part in the supply of drugs
Joseph Lewins (left) was sentenced to nine years while Ronald Moon pleaded guilty to money laundering and was sentenced to 15 months
John Somerville, who knew Chopra’s father, agreed to help the footballer get the money to the men in Glasgow, it was heard.
But prosecutors claimed the cash was a part-payment for a two kilogram batch of cocaine seized when police swooped on the flat in 2010.
The court heard Somerville and Daniel Chisholm – who both had previous convictions for drug dealing – were ‘central and key players’ in the conspiracy.
Jailing them for 12 years he said: ‘You were close to the original source, although neither of you were absolutely the top of the tree.’
Former Newcastle United footballer Chopra told a court how he blew £2million on gambling after getting hooked as a teenager. Right, pictured leaving Newcastle Crown Court last November
Sentencing Joseph Lewins to nine years, he added: ‘You described yourself at some point as a ‘mug’ and so you are, but I’m afraid that cannot save you from a significant sentence.’
Ronald Moon, 48, who was driving the car containing the money, pleaded guilty to possessing criminal property and was sentenced to 15 months behind bars.
The judge told the Liverpudlian: ‘Those who choose to allow themselves to be used in that way take all the risk and that, I am afraid, is a risk of going into custody.’
Lewins, 55, of Washington, Sunderland, Chisholm, 51, of Millfield, Sunderland, and Somerville, 53, of Kenton, Newcastle, were all found guilty of conspiracy to supply Class-A drugs.
Police discovered the ‘cocaine factory’ when they spotted Somerville throw a £12,500 block of cocaine out of the window of his Range Rover in Gateshead in April 2010.
They linked him to the other gang member and seven months later raided Lewins’ flat and found it had been turned into a drugs factory.
They recovered cocaine worth up to £750,000. SOURCE
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