SEVEN crime gang members involved in a £2.5 million drugs smuggling operation in Belfast were jailed on Friday.
Gang leader Ryan Joseph Black, 29, received the longest term at seven and a half years.
His ‘trusted lieutenant” William Johnston, 35, was jailed for six years and nine months at Belfast Crown Court.
The trial judge ordered that £18,500 in cash seized in total during the police operation is to be handed over to the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund charity.
A major drugs manufacturing operation was uncovered in a city centre flat as part of a police operation in 2010 to disrupt the gang.
The men from Belfast; Ballymena in County Antrim; Coagh in County Tyrone and Tandragee in County Armagh, got varying terms of imprisonment.
They were arrested after separate police operations in Belfast.
Subsequent searches uncovered cannabis, cocaine and tablets which police said were worth £2.5m.
The searches took place at Duncrue Link in October 2010 and Apollo Road in December of that year.
The bulk of the haul was cannabis but a 1kg of cocaine and a sizeable sum of money was also seized.
The court was told that 29-year-old Ryan Black, whose address cannot be published, was the ringleader and William Johnston, 35, of Windermere Park, Belfast, was his “trusted lieutenant”.
The others were couriers or had more minor roles.
Black will serve half of his seven-and-a-half years sentence on licence. He has already spent a significant amount of time on remand and this will be taken off the custodial part of his sentence.
Johnston will also serve half his sentence in custody.
A court in December heard the suspects were detained after two cars and a lorry were stopped on Saturday following a handover at an industrial estate in the south of the city.
Police recovered two large bags containing 26kgs of what is thought to be herbal cannabis with a street value of up to £520,000.
In follow-up searches of a flat, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines and cannabis resin with a similar combined value were discovered.
Around £15,000 in cash was also seized from the property.
One of the accused, Ryan Black (27), was described as the “mastermind” of the alleged drugs gang.
He faced 14 charges including possession with intent to supply and having criminal property.
His co-accused, James Turley (51), of Ballymore Road, Tandragee, and Mark Mulholland (25), of Glenariff Crescent, Ballymena, are charged with possessing cannabis with intent to supply.
Turley faces a further count of possessing criminal property, while Mulholland is accused of transferring criminal property.
Belfast Magistrates Court was told at the time that two people wanted in connection with the investigation were still at large.
A detective said that during the alleged handover Mulholland put two bags of cannabis in his Ford Mondeo after receiving them from Turley, a lorry driver.
Turley was paid £2,000 to bring the drugs, the court was told.
Black, a plumber, had circled the area in his own BMW car before the lorry driver arrived, it was claimed.