£35million drug cartel ordered to pay back less than £200,000


The head of a drug cartel which netted £35million in one year has been ordered to pay back less than £200,000 – just 0.5 per cent of the gang’s earnings.

Robert Brooks, 63, led a cartel including Olympic judo expert James Waithe which shipped class-A drugs into the country before cutting and distributing them.

They were raking in £1million a week selling cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and MDMA and some members also supplied firearms including handguns and rifles to dealers.

Brooks lived a champagne lifestyle which included a £140,000 car, a string of flats and bundles of used notes until he was jailed last year.

But a confiscation hearing at Bristol Crown Court has ordered him to pay back just £197,263.61 – the value of his only traceable assets such as property, cars and cash.

Police seized £45,000 in cash from his three flats in Weston-super-Mare and Bristol, a £140,000 Mercedes CL65 – now worth £25,000 – a £20,000 pension and a £4,500 bank transfer.

The operation came crashing down when police attending a routine 999 burglary call stumbled on the massive cocaine factory at a flat owned by Waithe.

Brooks, known as ‘Manchester Bob’, was responsible for transporting cocaine with 98 per cent purity between Manchester and Bristol, where it was cut and sold on.

He was jailed for 14 years earlier this month for possession of a stun grenade and 22 other members were sentenced to a total of over 135 years.

Brooks, of no fixed address, was already serving four and a half years for conspiracy to supply a class-A drug.

Dr Kirstie Cogram, who manages Avon and Somerset police’s Financial Investigation Unit, said the £35million sum was the biggest they had ever seized.

She said: ”This is certainly the biggest amount dealt with in Bristol and I would imagine one of the biggest in the country.

”The fact that we had someone give evidence about the amount they were earning meant we could go for the £35million figure.

”The fact he has been ordered to pay back £200,000 is based on what assets we could prove.

”If more assets or property emerges, then we can seize that, right up to the total amount of the conspiracy – which is £35million.”

Brooks, along with Craig Rodel, took over the gang after the third ringleader Justin Pearce, 29, was jailed for dealing cocaine and owning a Walther PPK pistol in 2007.

Philip, Justin and Jamie Pearce, Martyn Talbot, James Worgan, Ben Sherwood, Adam Kane were jailed for conspiracy to supply class-A drugs after their arrest in May 2007.

The gang was finally smashed in June 2008 after a concerned neighbour called police to report a burglary at a flat owned by Waithe.

When officers attended the address in Highridge, Bristol, they found an ”industrial scale” drug-cutting factory – one of four such properties the gang owned throughout Bristol.

Gang member Grant Richmond was arrested but turned Queen’s Evidence in return for a reduced sentence. He has since had his throat slashed in prison.

He told the court used car salesman Rodel teamed up with Brooks to take over the cocaine operation when Justin was jailed.

They enlisted Olympian Waithe, who represented Barbados at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, before working as a primary school teacher, to act as their bodyguard and enforcer.

Richmond previously told the court that Waithe and Rodel, who served in the Navy, once tortured a man by putting the victim’s hands into an electric toaster.

He told how the money received from their operations would be counted every Sunday and claimed the maximum he saw in a week was £900,000.

Rodel bought a string of luxury items including jewellery, Breitling, Rolex and Cartier watches, diamonds and gold.

In February 2009 the rest of the gang was arrested after officers stopped a BMW on the M5 near Bristol and seized £500,000 of cocaine.

Aaron Cowie, Mark Herbert, Jason Brown, Stephen Meek and Neil Martin were all jailed following that seizure.

Brooks was told he would have an extra three years added to his sentence if the £197,000 sum was not paid within 12 months.

Detective Superintendent Arthur Lewis, of Avon and Somerset Police, said: ”This is the highest value benefit from drug dealing we have seen in the Bristol area.

”These were very serious offences by a highly dangerous group of men, making hundreds of thousands of pounds a week.”


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