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Multi-million pound Black Country 'dark net' counterfeit drugs gang facing jail after shipping fake tablets around world

Ten people from Wolverhampton and the Black Country have been convicted of drugs and money laundering offences after an investigation started by a pharmaceutical company uncovered a multimillion-pound drug manufacturing network.

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In January 2018, as part of its work to protect public health from the threat posed by counterfeit medicines, pharmaceutical business Pfizer Ltd began looking into dark-net market sellers.

The sellers were operating as ‘Milkman11new’ and ‘UKBK’ and were selling bulk quantities of tablets advertised as ‘Xanax’ – a medicine which was previously manufactured by Pfizer.

Ten people have been convicted for their roles in the drug manufacturing network

The pharmaceutical company made multiple test purchases of the product and ran tests on the tablets in laboratories, where it was confirmed they were counterfeit and dangerously dosed.

Pfizer identified individuals responsible for shipping the fake tablets and began to pass information to West Midlands Police, whilst continuing to look into the group.

The force then took on the investigation to trace others involved in the manufacture and sale of counterfeit Xanax, the active ingredient of which is Alprazolam.

Investigators explored the dark web to track sales of the tablets and deliveries to and from addresses in the Black Country.

They also traced the proceeds of the sales through the transfer and conversion of crypto currency, called Bitcoin.

10,000 medical tablets produced an hour by Black Country drugs gang

The investigators found four pill press machines, costing around £7,500 each and capable of producing around 10,000 tablets an hour, had been purchased between August 2018 and February 2019 from a UK based company.

(L-R) - Katie Harlow, Kyle Smith, Lee Lloyd, Brian Pitts have been convicted

During the same period large quantities of Alprazolam and an analogue, Adinazolam, powder was shipped from China, along with bulking agents and other ingredients to make the tablets in the presses, purchased in the UK.

Officers carried out a warrant at an address in Wednesbury in August 2019 where they found thousands of counterfeit tablets which were in the process of being heat sealed in foil bags.

Police then searched an address in Tipton where, in a garden shed, they found an industrial powder mixer and an industrial style drying unit.

They also discovered that all surfaces were covered with a white and pink powder, the signs of production of red street variant counterfeit Xanax style pills.

The following month, a warrant in Wolverhampton revealed a tablet press machine, metal pill casts and stamps along with powder and a handwritten recipe list.

Jordan Pitts has been convicted

'More than two tonnes of bulking agent purchased by gang'

Investigating officer, Det Insp Dave Hollies at West Midlands Police, said: “The scale of production of these counterfeit tablets ran in the millions.

"We found evidence the group had purchased over two tonnes of bulking agent which made up over 90 per cent of the tablets.

“The weight of active ingredients purchased was up 220kg and the profit in Bitcoin also ran into millions.”

Records showed shipments of the fake tablets were made across the globe including mainland Europe and America.

Pfizer reacts

Patrick Holt, director, Global Security, Pfizer, added: “We are proud of the role we played alongside the authorities to ensure these serious criminals were brought to justice.

"We dedicated time, resource and expertise to ensure these illicit counterfeit activities were prevented in order to protect public health.”

What charges have the Black Country counterfeit drugs gang admitted and/ or being found guillty of?

Eight of the ten defendants pleaded guilty at earlier hearings and the trial for the remaining two concluded on Wednesday at Wolverhampton Crown Court.

They include:

  • Brian Pitts aged 29 of Beebee Road, Wednesbury, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to money launder, conspiracy to commit a trademark offence, conspiracy to supply class C drugs and evade prohibition / restriction on exporting class C drugs.

  • Lee Lloyd, aged 47 of Gayfield Avenue, Brierley Hill, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to money launder, conspiracy to supply class C drugs, conspiracy to commit a trademark offence and conspiracy to avoid a prohibition on exporting class C drugs.

  • Kyle Smith, aged 25 of Beech Road, Wednesbury, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class C drugs, conspiracy to commit a trademark offence, conspiracy to avoid a prohibition on exporting class C drugs.

  • Scott Tonkinson, aged 35 of Arundel Road, Willenhall, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a trademark offence, conspiracy to supply class C drugs and evade prohibition/restriction on exporting class C drugs.

  • Anthony Pitts, aged 40 of Belmont Close, Tipton, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class C drugs, conspiracy to commit a trademark offence, conspiracy to avoid a prohibition on exporting class C drugs.

  • Mark Bayley, aged 62 of Jeremy Road, Wolverhampton, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class C drugs and conspiracy to commit a trademark offence.

  • Deborah Bellingham, aged 57 of Windsor Road, Tipton, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class C drugs and conspiracy to commit a trademark offence.

  • Katie Harlow, aged 26 of Beebee Road, Wednesbury, pleaded guilty to money laundering.

  • Jordan Pitts, aged 25 of Hickman Road, Tipton and Bladon Roper, aged 24 of Stourbridge Road, Brierley Hill, have stood trial and were found guilty on Wednesday of assisting in the commission of an offence.

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