Ex-Leeds Utd player jailed for drug trafficking after cops smash secret EncroChat cocaine network | The Sun

A FORMER Leeds player has been jailed for shifting cocaine for a major crime gang after cops smashed a secret EncroChat network.

Paul Shepherd, 45, worked as a "trusted courier" for the four-man drug racket by moving cash and drugs around for them.

The ex-footballer, who also played for Scarborough, Luton Town and Ayr United, was caught by cops with cocaine.

Police also found a device with encrypted communications platform EncroChat installed.

After cracking the secret chats, they found messages that proved the drugs belonged to ringleader Carl O'Flaherty, 38, who had instructed Shepherd to move and store them.

Shepherd has now been jailed for nine years and six months after he was found guilty of producing and conspiracy to supply drugs and money laundering.

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Leeds Crown Court heard O'Flaherty would purchase three kilos of high-purity cocaine for £123,000, dilute the drugs with cheap chemicals and resell four kilos for £150,000.

Dane Marshall, 42, was designated as the gang's "chef", whose job was to cut the cocaine with a diluent before repackaging it for sale

He even managed to acquire a £50,000 Government "bounce back" COVID-19 business loan for a landscaping company he used as a front.

While Clinton Blakey, 38, would then buy the cocaine from the West Yorkshire-based operation.

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When police raided the group's headquarters, they found 13kgs of amphetamines and large quantities of chemicals used to dilute cocaine.

O'Flaherty admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine, producing and conspiracy to supply amphetamine, and was jailed for 17 years and 10 months.

Marshall was jailed for six years and six months for conspiracy to supply cocaine and acquiring criminal property.

While Blakey, who first fled to Marbella before being brought back to the UK, admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine and cannabis and was handed a 12 year sentence.

Shepherd played as a full back for Leeds in the 1990s and was on the England youth team.

He had stints at Scunthorpe and Oldham Athletic before finishing his career in 2005 at Stalybridge Celtic.

Nigel Coles, NCA Operations Manager, said: "Our extensive investigation has dismantled a dangerous criminal organisation that supplied large quantities of cocaine, a trade that fuels intimidation and exploitation in the north west and throughout the UK.

"It was clear from EncroChat messages that O'Flaherty headed up the group and stopped at nothing to line his own pockets. The cocaine he was distributing would have undoubtedly contributed to violence and misery in our communities.

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"At the NCA we are committed to our mission of protecting the public from serious and organised crime, ensuring that hardened criminals such as these men are brought to justice."

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