Two illegal immigrants will be deported back to China after serving a prison sentence for the roles they played in criminal activity linked to the drugs trade, a court heard today (Friday.)
Fei Luo (35) from Grange View in Toome and 30-year old Wei Fu Wang, whose address was given at HMP Maghaberry, were both handed a three-year sentence after they admitted a series of offences including transferring criminal property and conspiracy to supply cannabis.
The pair were caught after police in England raided two homes and located packages containing money which were posted from Northern Ireland.
Appearing in the dock alongside the two Chinese men was 31-year old Stephen James Creighton from Carrickfergus Gardens in Greenisland, who admitted a charge of encouraging or assisting offences. Described in court as a “handyman and runner”, Creighton bought a car and rented a flat in Carrick that were used in the criminal activity.
Outlining the Crown case against the three men, prosecuting barrister Rosemary Walsh said that on January 4 last year, police in Manchester raided a house in Manchester where cannabis was being grown. During the search, officers also found a Royal Mail package containing £18,000 which bore a return address of Model Avenue in Carrickfergus.
An investigation was launched and it emerged that the property in question had been rented the month before by Creighton, who wasn’t living there, and the package found in Manchester had been posted from Carrick on January 3, 2013.
Ms Walsh told Belfast Crown Court that on January 12 last year, the Metropolitan police in London carried out a search at an address in the city where another package containing £30,000 was found.
This package had a tracking number which indicated it had been posted from Whiteabbey Post Officer the day before. When CCTV footage from the post officer was viewed, Luo was seen posting the package.
Also on January 12 last year, police intercepted a package containing a further £30,000 that had been posted from Whiteabbey Post Office to an address in Manchester. CCTV footage revealed Luo had posted the package and was seen to arrive at the post office in a grey Passat.
Five days later, a detective constable from the PSNI saw the grey Passat outside an apartment complex in Carrick. The officer saw Luo get out of the car and recognised him from the CCTV footage taken from the Post Office.
Luo was arrested as he was leaving an apartment and when officers entered the premises, Wang was present. Ms Walsh said Wang was “asked when police arrived if there was anything he wanted to bring to their attention” and he directed them to a bag in a bedroom which contained £18,000.
A full search of the apartment was carried out and a further £96,000 was located in bags hidden in a laundry basket. Also found were postal receipts from the packages posted by Luo from Whiteabbey, and documents in relation to a house at Grange View in Toome. That address was also searched and 750 grams of herbal cannabis - with an estimated street value of between £7,500 and £15,000 - was found in the roofspace.
The total amount of cash found in the packages and during the various searched amounted to £192,000, while Ms Walsh told the court Creighton “facilitated the acquisition” of the grey Passat.
The prosecutor said both Wang and Luo pleaded guilty to a range of offences while Creighton - described by the Crown as a “runner/handyman who recieved modest payment for his role” - admitted encouraging or assisting offences.
Defence barrister Conor Mullan said his client Wang left China at the age of 15 and came to Ireland in 2003 where he worked as an illegal immigrant in restaurants both north and south of the border “before he became involved in this.”
Telling Judge Philpott Wang’s motivation was “financial”, Mr Mullan said the money and drugs in question were not his and that he was paid a weekly wage for his role. The barrister said Wang will be deported back to China where he had “no employment and no family support.”
Neil Fox, representing Luo, said his client became involved after “the people who employed him approached him and said they had other work for him.” Mr Fox said that Luo “knew full well” the packages he was posted were illegal, adding his client took the risks for other people in the criminal organisation who were not before the court.