UDA drugs ring exposed - terror group's racket involved triad gang and ex-mercenary
An under-threat criminal has lifted the lid on a money-spinning UDA drugs distribution network covering the whole of Northern Ireland.
Convicted sex offender Rod Manley claims the terror gang tried to use him to front the scam in partnership with Chinese Triads.
But he walked away from the racket, which has since been busted by the PSNI, and says he is now being made a "scapegoat" for its failure.
Manley, who served a previous prison sentence for growing cannabis, revealed: "The UDA is trying to blame this all on me, when it knows I am completely innocent."
The 47-year-old instead blames East Belfast UDA boss Jimmy Birch, who he says had full knowledge of the drug importation scam, and a violent ex-soldier from Ballymena Alan McCroary, who recently fought in the Ukraine as a mercenary.
"I was in jail with Alan and he introduced me to a Chinese Triad who he was friendly with and who was in for drug dealing," explained Manley.
"When I got out of prison I was beaten up by the UVF, its men broke my arm and leg. I had to leave east Belfast for my own safety and Alan found me a place to stay in Randalstown."
A few weeks after Manley relocated to a house on the Ahoghill Road, suspicious packages started arriving at the property. Too afraid to ask what was wrapped up inside, he signed for the first few.
However, he soon guessed that they were drugs packages when he saw Ballymena-based UDA members and Chinese Triads arrive at the house.
"As soon as I found out drugs were inside the packages I left Randalstown," added Manley.
"I wanted nothing to do with it because I'd already spent time in prison for running a UDA cannabis factory in east Belfast."
Before moving back to Belfast a frightened Manley explained how a drunken Alan McCroary, who also uses the surname McCartney, confided in him about the racket.
He does not accuse his former friend of drug dealing, merely acting as muscle for UDA-linked criminals in Ballymena.
Ex-soldier McCroary, who suffers from PTSD after seeing friends blown up in Afghanistan, is considered extremely volatile.
The 30-year-old has convictions for wandering around Ballymena late at night with knives and using a home-made flamethrower to set fire to a man's testicles.
He recently returned to Northern Ireland after spending time working as a paid mercenary in Ukraine fighting Russian troops.
"Alan got drunk one night and told me all about the racket, this was after he threatened to break my arm with a baseball bat," revealed Manley.
"How it worked was that the Chinese Triads sent cannabis packages to the house I was living at in Randalstown - it was effectively their distribution centre.
"The drugs were then bought by the Ballymena UDA which would send its men to the house to collect the packages.
"It was Alan's job to make sure they weren't hassled and stayed safe."
Manley says he saw UDA members weigh, cut up and vacuum pack the cannabis in the company of Chinese Triads.
"When the Triads weren't there they would steal little bits for themselves," he said.
"Alan later told me that the drugs were sold to crime gangs all round Northern Ireland, everywhere from Downpatrick to Enniskillen and Coleraine."
According to Manley the biggest purchaser was the East Belfast UDA. He accuses the terror gang of using a cafe owner, who is also a member, to oversee the distribution of its share of the cannabis haul in the east Belfast and north Down areas.
"Jimmy Birch (East Belfast UDA leader) knows full well this is going on," said Manley. "He also knows that his men work with Chinese Triads bringing cannabis into loyalist areas.
"It sickens me when I see Birch being photographed with politicians and police officers because he is nothing more than a gangster."
Manley accepts that he will be put on a UDA death list for going public and believes the organisation will now brand him a sex offender who is not to be believed.
However, he says its members were happy to try and get him to front its Chinese Triad cannabis distribution racket despite knowing about his past.
In 2016 Manley had an 18-month prison sentence suspended for three years after pleading guilty to touching the leg of a 14-year-old schoolgirl who he also tried to kiss.
He said: "It was because of this that I moved to Randalstown, the UVF broke into my house on the Ravenhill Road and beat me so bad that I ended up in hospital for weeks.
"The UDA in Ballymena and East Belfast knew all about my conviction, yet both gangs still tried to get me to front the cannabis warehouse. There was no way I was getting involved, I'd learned my lesson from the last time."
Manley was jailed for five months in 2013 for running a UDA cannabis factory on the Castlereagh Road in east Belfast. He was paid by the terror gang to grow 54 plants in a specially adapted loft at the property. The day before he was arrested, a UDA man called to the house and removed 36 of the plants.
Less than 24 hours later, the front door was kicked down by police who charged Manley with running a cannabis factory.
"The UDA set me up for arrest, I've no doubt about it," he told Sunday Life.
"That's why I was wise to them when they tried to get me to front the cannabis distribution from the house in Randalstown. I wanted nothing to do with it and walked away."
"I'm going public now because loyalists up in Ballymena are trying to make out I was heavily involved in that racket, when the truth is I am completely innocent," pleaded Manley.
"I've put my life at risk by speaking out, but that's the price I have to pay for clearing my name."