A 'puppet-master' responsible for a network of cannabis farms worth £500,000 has been jailed following a lengthy multi-force investigation.
Huy Hoang Phan coordinated a web of large-scale cannabis farms across the North East and Scotland, exploiting Vietnamese workers to grow the crops and then distribute the drugs across the UK.
During six months of surveillance which spanned the Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland force areas, a number of cannabis farmers and drug mules were arrested, but it was Phan, 36, who was singled out as a key figure in the operation.
Specialist officers spent months tracing his movements, and he was finally arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of cannabis on September 4, 2018, at one of his farms in Gainsborough Grove, Fenham, Newcastle.
He was in the process of constructing the farm , and around 80 plants worth £40,000 were recovered from the property. Another Vietnamese man, Nam Van Hoang, 39, was also arrested at the address.
Detective Sergeant David Kay, from Northumbria Police, led the surveillance on Phan and his associates, and said he was pleased to see them both men receive prison sentences at Newcastle Crown Court on Friday.
He said: “This was a long and complex investigation by detectives from three police forces, who worked together to uncover a number of farms regularly producing thousands of pounds worth of cannabis.
“We spent months gathering intelligence on Phan and his associates, and were able to build up a detailed picture of the drugs network he operated, following him and his workers to their farms across Durham, Teesside, Gateshead and Scotland.
“He was the puppet-master of the operation, pulling the strings and getting everyone in to position. Everywhere we went, he seemed to appear.
"Phan was also responsible for distributing cannabis from the farms around the UK. Couriers were intercepted travelling to Edinburgh and Birmingham from Tyneside after meetings with Phan.”
“We know from our intelligence Phan had links to another Vietnamese male, Khanh Duy Pham, who was convicted last year as part of another large-scale drugs investigation into organised crime within the region’s Vietnamese communities, and know he was using illegal immigrants in his illicit activities.
“I hope the sentences passed today serve as a warning to anyone who is linked with this type of criminality, and reminds anyone who thinks they can get away with supplying drugs to the those who are vulnerable in our communities, that we are watching you, and we will bring you to justice.
“The production of cannabis in our region also brings misery to those people who have been smuggled into the UK clandestinely by gangs in order to be used and exploited as farmers within the cannabis farms.
“Under the banner of Operation Sentinel, the forces across the North East will continue to work together to disrupt and target organised crime.”
Phan, of no fixed abode, had pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of controlled drugs and was jailed for three and a half years.
Hoang had pleaded guilty to producing cannabis and was sentenced to one year in prison.
A number of Phan’s associates have already appeared before the courts.
* A 17-year-old was arrested on June 29, 2018, when intercepted on the A19 travelling south from Washington. He was carrying more than six kilos of cannabis skunk, worth around £48,000. After his arrest officers discovered he was wanted in the Staffordshire area for production of cannabis. He was charged with possession with intent to supply and after admitting the offence was sentenced to a one-year detention and training order on January 31 at Stafford Crown Court.
* Thuy Minh Nguyen, 47, of no fixed abode, was arrested for producing cannabis on July 7, 2018, after officers from Cleveland raided a property in High Street, Skelton, Saltburn-by-the-Sea and uncovered a farm with 300 cannabis plants worth an estimated £150,000. He admitted production of cannabis and was jailed for 32 months on November 15, 2018, at Teesside Crown Court.
* Tu Toan Tran, 19, of no fixed abode, was jailed for four weeks and given a deportation order after he was found in possession of more than eight kilos of cannabis, thought to be worth around £65,680 at Newcastle Central Station. He appeared at Bedlington Magistrates' Court on July 11, 2018.
* Hung Tran, 41, of Hallington Mews, Killingworth, was cautioned for possession of cannabis and ecstasy. A canister of pepper spray was also recovered from the address and he was charged. He subsequently admitted being in possession of a prohibited weapon. He appeared at North Tyneside Magistrates’ Court on September 13 and received a community order sentence.
Warrants were also executed on September 5, 2018, at properties in Dean Terrace, Ryton, Gateshead, and Poplar Street in Chester-le-Street. No arrests were made but a total of 450 cannabis plants were recovered with an estimated street value of £300,000.
A search was also conducted by officers at an address in the Arthur's Hill area of Newcastle where two illegal immigrants from Vietnam were detained. They were later processed by Immigration officers.