A GANG which flooded the West Country with at least 15 kilograms of cocaine have been jailed for a total of more than 40 years.

The Albanian led group recruited wholesalers in Brixham, Newlyn, Plymouth and Bristol and sold well over £1 million pounds worth of high purity drugs through four local dealers.

Leader Mark Vasija used a car wash business as a cover for sending huge shipments of cocaine to Devon and Cornwall, most carried by his brother-in-law Adi Lleshi.

Police mounted a surveillance operation in which officers watched heavy packages being handed over to dealers and cash taken back in exchange.

Almost half the 35 trips were made to John Minchington in Brixham, while other deliveries were made to Tyler Harrison in Plymouth, Steven Evans in Penzance and Michael Williams in Bristol.

Minchington’s home was raided twice and he was caught trying to flush a kilo of cocaine down the toilet as police entered his home.

He also sold drugs while staying at a caravan park at Chudleigh.

A further three kilos were seized from Lleshi’s car as he pulled up at Williams’s home and he had £160,000 cash ready to be handed over as payment for an earlier shipment.

The gang used encrypted ‘Encrochat’ phones to arrange deliveries but were unaware that police were tracking their movements through number plate recognition cameras and watching the handovers made by Lleshi.

Adi Lleshi, aged 25, of London; John Minchington, aged 42, formerly of Kings Drive, Brixham but now of no fixed address; and Michael Williams, aged 59, of Padstow Road, Knowle, Bristol, all denied conspiracy to supply cocaine.

They were all found guilty and Minchington was also convicted of obstructing the police by flushing cocaine down his toilet.

Mark Vasija, aged 40, from Ilford; Tyler Harrison, aged 27, of Torridge Way, Efford, Plymouth; and Steven Evans, aged 43, of Park Road, Newlyn; all admitted conspiracy to supply class A.

Lleshi, aged 25, from Ilford; Minchington, aged 42, of Kings Drive, Brixham; and Michael Williams, aged 59, of Padstow Rd, Bristol, all denied conspiracy but were found guilty by a jury at Exeter Crown Court.

Vasija was jailed for 11 years and two months; Lleshi for ten and a half years; Minchington for nine years and four months; Harrison for  four years and four months; and Evans for five years and seven months. Williams will be sentenced later. 

Judge Timothy Rose told them: ‘The supply of class A drugs blight communities and damages or destroys lives of users who end up in a spiral of addiction.

‘It brings the familiar consequences of acquisitive crime against innocent and often vulnerable people and brings with it a substantial risk of violence.

‘The motivation amounted to one thing alone: money. Your greed is at the root of all the offending in this case. The scale of the activity was substantial and amounted to more than £1 million.’

Mr Richard Posner, prosecuting, said Vasija and Lleshi distributed the drugs around the West County while the others sold them on and collected cash to pay for future shipments.

The operation ran between July 1 and November 29, 2019, when Lleshi was arrested with £240,000 of cocaine outside Williams’s hoe in Bristol. The rest were rounded up shortly afterwards.

The two Albanians made 35 trips with approximately a kilo carried on most of them and larger amounts on at least three occasions.

The minimum estimate for the amounts were 15 kilograms but could well have been more. The wholesale value of the drugs was more than £500,000 but they were of high purity and were likely to have been cut and sold on the streets for two and a half times that amount.

Vasija bought a Porsche Cayenne for £12,600 cash when he traded in his Audi A6 car, which Lleshi had used to make most of the deliveries up to that point.

The surveillance operation led to police watching or filming handovers to all the dealers, especially Minchington, who received a kilo on just one of 17 meetings with Lleshi or Vasija.

Police swooped with simultaneous raids In November 2019 as Lleshi arrived at Williams’s home with three kilos with a street value up to £240,000.

Williams had half a kilo of cocaine and just under £160,000 cash hidden under the stairs of his parents’ home next door.

Those involved used numerous phones, some encrypted, to organise the deliveries and Lleshi was seen taking a large bag into flats in Efford where Harrison lived.

Cocaine worth £10,000 and £25,000 cash were seized from Evans’s home in Penzance. 

Mr Barry White, for Vasija, said he was not a Mr Big and was living in a rented home in East London. He had no assets other than his car and the profits were being sent up the line.

Miss Rachel Smith, for Lleshi, said he was acting under the direction of his brother-in-law at a time when he was unable to take a legitimate job because he was an illegal immigrant.

Mr William Parkhill, for Minchington, said he became involved because of his own drug use. He ran his own car trading and building businesses and it is a tragedy for his family that he got involves.

Mr Ali Rafati, for Harrison, said he had been involved by others and not played as great a role as others. He has suffered serious illness while in custody awaiting sentence.

Mr Hans Kehler, for Evans, said he is a former professional sportsman who was desperate for money because of a gambling habit which he was unable to support by working in his wife’s chip shop.

The judge set a timetable under the Proceeds of Crime Act which will result in any available assets being identified and seized.