Hove Crown Court
A DRUG gang hired a hitman to kill their underworld bosses rather than pay them back after a police surveillance operation netted £1.5m.
The gang were under pressure to pay back money police seized in cash and class A drugs to their crime bosses.
When the pressure increased, the gang decided to eliminate their debts by murdering their creditors, a court heard.
Five men involved in the drugs gang conspired to kill two men described in court as their suppliers.
Dale Sullivan for the Crown told a jury at Hove Trial Centre Leo Alan Ellis, 23, from Hastings, Jason Caswell, 41, from London, Kenny Kelly, 36, from London, Steven Kelly and Anthony Hearn, 44, conspired to kill Kevin Wise and another man known only as M.
The gang were under pressure from Wise and M to pay back illegal cash and the cost of unsold drugs seized by detectives from Sussex police as part of Operation Lancehead.
When the gang leaders decided they would not or could not pay their bosses back, they hatched a plan to kill them.
Another man, Jamie Peter Winchester, 24, of St Leonards in East Sussex supplied the gang with a TEC-9 style 9mm automatic sub-machine gun pistol with a silencer which the Crown say would have been used by Anthony Hearn to murder Wise and M.
Mr Sullivan told the court: “Operation Lancehead was an investigation into drug dealing and money laundering by Leo Ellis in Sussex and Jason Caswell in Kent.
“Both had autonomy in their home areas and both were equally indebted to their suppliers.
“£1.4m in Class A drugs were seized and £100,000 cash.
“This had a significant impact and placed significant pressure on their mounting debts.
“The conspired to have their creditors killed because they could not or refused to repay Wise and M.”
The gang used encrypted Blackberry mobile phones to send secure emails between each other.
Police forensic experts cracked the phones.
Dale Sullivan said: “From the encrypted emails between Caswell, Ellis, Kevin Wise and others it is clear Leo Ellis and Jason Caswell were answerable to Kevin Wise and another man called Ted and they were in turn answerable to somebody called M.
“It was clear Leo Ellis’s dwindling position within the OCG (Organised Crime Group) because of his mounting debts and inability or unwillingness to repay them despite pressure to do so.
“There was an inability to repay the debts which was compounded by the seizures of drugs and cash all taking place within three days.
“The main thrust of the encrypted messages was to get them to repay their debts.”
Operation Lancehead made three major seizures of high purity heroin, cocaine and cash in October 2015 from cars and addresses in Sussex and London.
“By Feb 29, 2016, they discussed a plan to eliminate their debts by eliminating their creditors,” Mr Sullivan said.
Five men, Leo Ellis, Jason Caswell, Kenny Kelly, Steven Kelly and Anthony Hearn, deny two charges of conspiracy to murder.
Jamie Winchester denies supplying the gun and ammunition.
Leo Ellis and Jason Caswell deny various charges of supplying Class A drugs.
The trial at Hove continues.
Source: The Argus