Kinahan lieutenant Thomas ‘Bomber’ Kavanagh’s €36 million cocaine empire blown open
The gang’s “highly sophisticated” operation saw them importing vast amounts of cocaine and cannabis in machinery, unloading it and then reloading cash for it to be sent back as payment
Kinahan lieutenant Thomas “Bomber” Kavanagh oversaw a massive drug smuggling operation in which 23 consignments of drugs worth around €36 million were imported in the UK over a one-year period.
Kavanagh, called “the Gaffer” in encrypted messages from associates, had a role sitting at “the head of the organisation” as his position in the crime mob was laid bare at Ipswich Crown court on Friday.
The gang’s “highly sophisticated” operation saw them importing vast amounts of cocaine and cannabis in machinery, unloading it and then reloading cash for it to be sent back as payment.
The court heard evidence of how cannabis, wrapped in plastic, was labelled with “Manchester United” and “Rolex” branding, while cocaine was branded “54”.
Kavanagh, 54, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, along with Gary Vickery, 39, and Daniel Canning, 43, who are brothers in law and both of Solihull, were again before the UK court for a sentencing hearing.
All three defendants – who are originally from Dublin – admitted in July 2020 to conspiring to import class A and B drugs, worth around €36million or £30m, and money laundering.
Canning also admitted possessing a firearm and ammunition.
Explaining their roles, Riel Karmy-Jones QC prosecuting said: “Thomas Kavanagh sits at the head of the organisation, with Gary Vickery immediately beneath him and Daniel Canning is subordinate to Vickery.”
The court heard that the investigation by the National Crime Agency was sparked by a major seizure by gardai in Dublin in January 2017.
On that occasion, Irish investigators seized a “significant” amount of firearms and class A drugs as they targeted Declan “Mr Nobody” Brady.
However documents seized identifying a UK-based freight transport company and passed to the NCA led to the operations of an organised crime gang in the West Midlands of the UK.
On October 2, 2017 customs officials at Dover seized a consignment of 15kg of cocaine and 200kg of cannabis hidden inside two large Tarmac removal machines.
The court heard that the estimated street value of the cocaine, which had 75% purity, was £1.2 million, and £2 million for the cannabis.
Also found was a GPS tracking device inside one of the machines.
Karmy-Jones explained: “The investigation by the NCA uncovered that drugs were being imported into the UK from mainland Europe concealed within items of machinery and delivered by legitimate transportation and logistics companies.
“Once at their destination in the UK, the drugs would be removed, and the machinery reloaded with cash, which in turn was carried back to mainland Europe in payment for the drugs.”
The next day, an industrial unit in the West Midlands was searched.
A transformer device had been adapted and inside was a black holdall which contained a Smith and Wesson 357 revolver gun and 85 rounds of live ammunition. Canning’s DNA was found on this firearm.
Also, another Irishman part of the operation was Martin Byrne, whose DNA was found on the firearm along with five others who are not identified.
Byrne’s address was raided as part of the probe, however he died of lung cancer during the investigation.
In the search of Vickery’s address, there were substantial amounts of cash found, which totalled €198,430. Various mobile phones were also recovered.
Significantly 25kg of boric acid was found which is used as a cutting agent and to reduce purity of cocaine and increase its value.
Canning’s address saw money and phones also seized.
While Kavanagh’s Tamworth gated home had “significant security alterations” including bulletproof glass and doors.
There were also a number of weapons found including knives.
Various cash bundles were discovered around the house including some stashed down the back of his couch and other bundles split into designer bags.
It amounted to £22,900, €13,600 and $3,400.
Encrypted phones were seized at each of their homes.
Only one drug shipment was intercepted by the NCA however following a thorough probe and an examination of communications between the gang, as well as CCTV, surveillance and GPS tracking, they were able to identify 22 others they were behind.
In communications on Whatsapp and encrypted phones, Kavanagh was known as “The Gaffer”, “Plasma” or “New2, while “Jelly” was the nickname for Vickery and “Smiley” for Canning.
An examination of the communications established the code words which they used.
Paper was reference to cash, phones were cocaine, jackets is the codeword used for packages of flowering head cannabis, hot for Spain and the flat for Netherlands.
Overall between October 2016 and October 2017 there was 23 shipments associated with the gang which was a branch of the Kinahan cartel.
Evidence was heard of how Kavanagh and Vickery went on a celebratory trip to New York at one stage.
Vickery sent a picture to his wife with himself, Kavanagh and others before saying: “Haha this is worth the money.”
The court heard how meetings were also held in Birmingham.
Kavanagh, who could face over 20 years behind bars, was also in contact with the Kinahan’s main man in Europe, who is currently in custody in Germany.
Another man was a Polish man, known as Z, who organised GPS trackers from his native country while also had payments sent to his business in Barcelona, Spain.
Karmy-Jones summed up: “This was a highly sophisticated operation, involving an enormous commercial quantity of cocaine and cannabis, crossing a number of geographical borders, to be bought and sold for substantial gain.”
Kavanagh has 16 previous convictions dating back to 1985 including convictions in Ireland for burglary, possessing firearms and ammunition without a certificate, and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
His most recent conviction in the UK was in September 2019 for possession of a disguised firearm, a stun gun, discovered during a search of his home address.
He received a three-year jail-term for this, which has since expired.
Kieran Vaughan QC, for Kavanagh, said “there are others not before the court who are above” Kavanagh.
He added that Kavanagh has six children and two grandchildren.
Richard Furlong, for Canning, said Canning was a father-of-three who had worked as a mechanic since the age of 15.
The three men will be sentenced on Monday.
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