Published: 19:15, 21 September 2021
| Updated: 19:49, 21 September 2021
A drug dealing pair who imported £250,000 worth of cocaine inside books and paintings have been jailed after officers cracked an encrypted chat network.
But officers snared Gavin Calloway and Charles Hodges after an international police effort decoded the EncroChat phone network being used by criminals around the world.
The encrypted phone platform, which allowed druglords and dealers to message in secret, was broken by authorities in France and The Netherlands in 2020.
Information about thousands of dealers were passed to authorities around the world, including the National Crime Agency in the UK.
An investigation by Kent Police was triggered and detectives identified Calloway, of Herne Avenue, Herne Bay and Hodges, of Kent Street, Whitstable, as users.
The pair each admitted charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and conspiracy to supply cocaine and were jailed at Canterbury Crown Court on Friday.
Investigators discovered the cocaine had been imported before being supplied to customers in bulk form.
Between March 1 and June 12, 2020, police say nearly 3kg of cocaine was smuggled into the UK with a street value of £250,000.
Analysis of the EncroChat data found Calloway used an encrypted phone with the username 'legallemur’ while Hodges used the handles ‘minorbuffalo’ and ‘palmvalley’.
One message sent by Calloway on May 18, 2020 told a supplier he had "a load of address lined up" and agreed a £37,000 deal for the drugs to be sent over.
In the following days, further messages were exchanged with confirmed another shipment was ready at a price of £40,000.
Detectives also found converstations between Calloway and Hodges discussing how to turn the powdered cocaine into "rocks" and sourcing materials to allow them to do so.
Investigations established both men were involved with the crimes after finding evidence of them being in the right locations on specific dates and times of when messages were sent.
On January 6 this year, officers searched a property in Herne Bay where Calloway was found and arrested.
At the address, police also found 1,915 tablets of class C drug Etizolam, self-seal bags, black rubber gloves, white powder, a bank card and 5g of cocaine.
A search at another property in Sandwich found cash totalling £9,840 hidden in a bag on top of a wardrobe.
Hodges was arrested at a farm off Fox's Road in Whitstable which officers believe was being used to store the imported drugs. Cocaine weighing 0.35g was found in a clear bag in a static caravan on the farm.
The pair are now starting a long stretch behind bars after being jailed for a combined 19 years.
"Calloway is a man who dealt with significant criminals across the globe and attended criminal meetings."
Calloway, 43, was sentenced to 10 years while Hodges, 34, was locked up for nine years.
Det Con Rebecca Veares of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: "Calloway and Hodges went to great lengths to import a large amount of cocaine into the country in order to turn a profit.
"Many criminals have used Encrochat phones to facilitate their criminality, believing the technology would protect them and allow them to operate more freely, but as shown, authorities have ways of infiltrating the network and gathering the data required.
"Calloway is a man who dealt with significant criminals across the globe and attended criminal meetings. He recruited Hodges to work with him and both were driven by greed.
"I have no doubt that had we not discovered what they were up to that they would still be operating in this manner today, so I’m pleased they have been apprehended and are behind bars."