Three men are facing jail for setting up a mail order business selling two potentially lethal drugs hundreds of times stronger than morphine.
Lee Childs, 45, Jake Levene, 22, and Mandy Lowther, 21, flogged their wares on the dark web under the names UKBargains – making £163,474 in just five months.
They sold fentanyl – which is 100 times stronger than morphine – and carfentanyl – which is 100 times stronger again – to customers as far away as Australia, Canada, Argentina and Singapore.
Fentanyl is prescribed for severe pain relief, while carfentanyl has no medical use for humans.
The chemicals were so toxic that in February 2017, Lowther was admitted to Leeds Accident and Emergency in a coma caused by an hypoxic brain injury linked to exposure to the two drugs.
He recovered, and despite his brush with death, Lowther and his co-defendants carried on supplying the deadly drugs, the National Crime Agency said in a statement.
Their site on the dark web ran the disclaimer: “I will not give any information about fentanyl or its analogues as the customer should already have (researched) these chemicals before even contemplating using them as they are extremely dangerous & lethal in the wrong hands.”
When officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and West Yorkshire Police raided their makeshift processing plant in an industrial unit in Morley, Leeds, they found 677g of pure carfentanyl – equivalent to millions of lethal doses.
They also found quantities of fentanyl, containers of cutting agent, a vacuum sealer, scales and a production line for mix, blending and heating the chemicals.
Heavy duty gloves and two respirator masks were among the gang’s stock of equipment to protect themselves while mixing and packing the drugs.
Childs was captured on the CCTV of his local Post Office sending hundreds of parcels out to clients.
A to-do list found Levene’s car listed “Find new CF” supplier, alongside paying his electricity bill, while text messages between Levene and Lowether revealed them arguing about their respective workloads.
Lowther admitted two counts of supplying and two counts of exporting Class A drugs between December 1 2016 and April 30 2017 at Leeds Crown court on Tuesday, while Levene and Childs previously admitted the same charges.
An investigation revealed that six people from UKBargain’s 443-strong customer list have died from fentanyl-related deaths, although it cannot be proved that their final, lethal dose was supplied by Levene, Childs and Lowther.
Greg McKenna, regional head of investigations at the NCA, said: “This operation has resulted in the closure of an organised crime group sending horrifically dangerous drugs across the world, and the jailing of the men behind it.
“They knew exactly how lethal the drugs were, but continued to sell them.
“There have been more than 120 UK deaths relating to fentanyl or carfentanyl since December 2016.
“We have taken out a main supplier but the threat from synthetic opioids remains and we will continue to respond to this UK-wide threat with our law enforcement partners.”
The trio will be sentenced on September 7 at Leeds Crown Court.