A DRUGS gang is today behind bars after police discovered a huge haul of cocaine – in a McDonald’s bag.
A surveillance team stopped a taxi heading to Sunderland and found half a kilo of cocaine wrapped in the fast food bag.
The undercover officers had been tailing drug boss Steven Ellis and a network of couriers he had working under his control to flood Wearside with cocaine.
The half-kilo seizure, which was 78 per cent pure cocaine and could have fetched more than £150,000 at street level, is believed to be just one of many shipments transported from Teesside to the streets of Sunderland.
At Newcastle Crown Court during a previous hearing Ellis, 42, of Mulberry, Coxhoe, County Durham, was jailed for six years and three months.
At yesterday’s hearing John Connolly, 45, of Matford Avenue, Middlesbrough, who the judge said was one step down from Ellis in the “chain”, was jailed for five-and-a-half years.
Darren Rainton, 31, of Garnet Street, Pallion, Sunderland, who was in the cab when the drugs were found and admitted involvement in eight separate drugs runs, was jailed for four years.
Ellis’s common-law father-in-law Gordon Ellis, 52, of Vale Street, Barnes, Sunderland, was jailed for four years for his involvement in one trip.
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They had all admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine.
Darren Wild, 42, of Kitchener Street, Barnes, Sunderland, Anthony Warwick, 35, of Edward Street, Middlesbrough and David Standing, 59, of Marshall Avenue, Middlesbrough, were all given suspended 12 month prison sentences, with various requirements, for being concerned in the supply of the drug.
Judge John Evans told them: “This supply involved regular runs of significant quantities of high purity cocaine from Middlesbrough to Sunderland.
“It is evident to me the principal operator here was Steven Ellis who was undoubtedly the one who played the leading role and, as ever, in playing that role he distanced himself from the every day business of the running of the organisation.”
Rainton and Wild had also admitted possession of two kilos of cannabis during a separate sting.
Prosecutor Robert Adams told the court: “Steven Ellis was the head of an organised criminal gang involved in the movement of cocaine from Middlesbrough to Sunderland.
“This was a very complicated investigation. The main target of the inquiry Steven Ellis was someone deemed by the police to be a career criminal who was surveillance conscious, which was apparent by the way he behaved.
“A large number of officers put in a great deal of work in successfully bringing this case to conclusion.”
Judge Evans commended Northumbria Police officers involved in the surveillance operation.
DCI Lisa Orchard from the force’s Serious Organised Crime Unit said: “We’ve disrupted a large scale drug supply operation with Steve Ellis as a central figure - co-ordinating dealing across Sunderland and beyond.
“This operation has taken a significant amount of drugs off the streets, reducing the harm they would have caused to those who used it and cutting the crime that may have been committed by those who use drugs.”