A VIETNAMESE drugs gang has been jailed for a total of nine years for setting up a £500,000 cannabis farm on the outskirts of Hartlepool.
Police uncovered more than 1,000 cannabis plants growing in a bungalow near Elwick at the beginning of July.
Phuong Van Nguyen, 23, was recruited by drug bosses in London to track down locations in the North-East to grow cannabis, Teesside Crown Court heard.
She was aided by her boyfriend and fellow immigrants Vu Van Pham, also 23, and gardener Duc Van Nguyen, 44.
But drugs cops smashed the lucrative operation when they raided the secluded address on July 1.
The lettings agent became suspicious when he was told not to go to the bungalow to collect the £1,000 a month rent.
He was also wary after he saw some of the rooms had padlocked doors.
The court heard the drugs had a potential street value of £448,000.
Rupert Doswell, prosecuting, said: “A search revealed a large scale sophisticated commercial cannabis farm.
“There were six separate growing areas, all in different stages of growth.”
There were also three big bags of pre-packaged cannabis bush in the freezer.
Walls were covered in reflective sheeting, while heating, lighting and extractions fans had also been installed to boost the crop’s growth.
Mr Doswell said Phuong Van Nguyen approached the lettings agent in May about another house but was “particularly interested” in the Elwick bungalow after hearing it was secluded.
Duc Van Nguyen was found at the bungalow when police executed the warrant.
He was also wanted after being arrested in connection with a £250,000 cannabis farm in Gilsland, Cumbria.
Phuong Van Nguyen was jailed for four years while the other two were sentenced to two and a half years each.
Victoria Lamballe, mitigating, for Phuong Van Nguyen, of Willowbrook Road, London, said: “She clearly acted on instructions of those very much higher up the chain.
“While the profits were potentially significant, they were not going to be her profits.”
Nigel Soppitt, mitigating for Pham, of no fixed address, said he had been taken advantage of after he paid people traffickers $10,000 to come to England.
Nick Lumley, mitigating for Duc Van Nguyen, said his client had been the “gardener” and accepted jail was inevitable.
All three admitted conspiracy to produce cannabis between April 30 and July 2.
Duc Van Nguyen, of no fixed address, also admitted being concerned in the production of cannabis and production of cannabis.
The Recorder of Middlesbrough Judge Peter Fox said: “You must all receive immediate prison sentences at the end of which I trust you will all be deported back to your native land.”