THREE men at the centre of a £750,000 cocaine trial where championship striker Michael Chopra gave evidence have been convicted of a drug supply conspiracy.
The former Newcastle United and Sunderland FC player, who is now signed for Blackpool, told jurors a £50,000 cash bundle found in the footwell of a Jaguar was money being used to pay off his gambling debts.
Prosecutors at Newcastle Crown Court claimed it was drug money which was linked to a “cocaine factory” found at Joseph Lewin’s home in Washington.
Jurors heard his flat, at Malvern Road, Washington, was used to process, package and distribute high grade cocaine and was kitted out with the necessary equipment to do so.
It was claimed the £50,000 cash was to be part-payment for the 68per cent pure, two kilogram batch seized from inside a holdall at the flat by police, who had the gang under secret surveillance in the weeks before their arrest in 2010.
During the trial the gang said the allegations against them were “ridiculous” and tried to shift the blame onto the late Stuart Mottram, a man who was known in Sunderland as “Benny the brick”.
Chopra gave evidence for the defence, claiming the £50,000 found in a black bin-bag in the luxury car was being used to pay off loan sharks who were after him to settle a gambling debt.
The footballer told the court his family came under threat as he struggled to pay back cash he had blown through his £2m gambling addiction which had started “taking over his life”.
Joseph Lewins, 55, of Malvern Road, Daniel Chisholm, 51, then of Franklin Street, Sunderland, Christopher Bacon, 34, of Wendover Close, Witherwack, and John Somerville, 53, of Sheringham Avenue, Kenton, all denied conspiracy to supply class A drugs throughout.
At the end of a trial lasting almost a month, Lewins, Chisholm and Somerville were all found guilty.
Bacon was found not guilty.
The three convicted men were remanded in custody and will be sentenced at a later date.
Judge John Evans warned them: “Inevitably, substantial sentences of imprisonment follow, having regard to the offences.”
Prosecutor Jolyon Perks has told jurors the cash was seized in a Jaguar being driven by a man who had just left Somerville’s home and was part-payment for a drugs deal.
Chopra told jurors he had given the money to Somerville, who was helping him sort out his debts with loan sharks, so it could be passed on to creditors in Liverpool.
Chopra told the court he had known Somerville since he was a boy and the car mechanic would frequently help him out over the years.