A Vietnamese national has been jailed for his involvement in ‘industrial-scale’ cannabis factories where £870,000 worth of drugs were seized.
It took seven years to bring Long Cuu Tran to book for the crimes after he first came to the attention of the authorities.
He’d pretended he was under the age of 18 and then absconded after being placed in local authority care.
But his real age emerged after he was arrested for a separate matter in 2019 and his fingerprints were taken. They matched DNA samples from items left at the drugs farms located across the Midlands.
Now the 31-year-old has been sentenced to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of being concerned in the production of cannabis.
Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard how Tran, also known as Khac Huan Nguyen, was recruited as a ‘gardener’ to tend the plants.
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Police were alerted to the first drugs factory in Newcastle Street, Middleport, on October 14, 2011. The three-storey building had been undergoing renovation, but the work had stopped.
Prosecutor Denise Fitzpatrick said: “The landlord of the property was alerted to activity in the house when he received an electricity bill of over £5,000. It was at a time when the property should have been vacant.”
During a police search, 263 cannabis plants were found growing on the top floor. The two other floors had been set up for future drugs production as there were lights and transformers.
The 11.8 kilograms of recovered cannabis vegetation had an estimated street value of up to £83,600.
But that proved small fry next to the two other cannabis factories, where he worked between 2011 and 2012.
One was discovered at a terrace house in Birmingham. There were 875 cannabis plants there, at varying degrees of maturity. The yield was valued at £388,400.
The third operation was based at an industrial estate in Cannock. A total of 1,717 cannabis plants were found on the premises, worth £405,000 if sold wholesale after reaching their full growth.
Tran came to the attention of the police after the Birmingham raid. But he gave them false details, which led to him being treated as a juvenile.
It was one of a series of lies he was to tell the authorities. When he was finally arrested in July last year, he claimed he’d been working in the construction industry and had been at the Middleport house before it was used for drugs.
He explained that was how his fingerprints were left on a cigarette end and light bulbs.
Tran later asserted he had been trafficked into Britain and forced to work at the sites. An investigation was carried out under the National Referral Mechanism, but the claim was rejected on the grounds it wasn’t credible.
The court heard that Tran, of no fixed address, is now seeking asylum in this country.
Barry White, mitigating, said: “I would still submit there is possibly some exploitation of this defendant by others.” He described Tran’s involvement in the cannabis factories as a ‘lesser role’.
Jailing him, Judge Paul Glenn branded the defendant as ‘devious’ for giving a false name and date of birth. “Each of these operations was a professional operation. The potential yield and value was very significant,” he said.
But he added: “The real profits would have found their way into the hands of others.”