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Leicestershire Man Sentenced for “Breaking Bad-style” Drug Operation

Paul Johnson, a former KFC employee, operated a multi-million dollar darkweb drug enterprise from the attic of his home in Market Harborough, Leicestershire. His so-called “Breaking Bad-style” operation resulted in an eight-year prison sentence.

A 32-year-old Leicestershire man was sentenced to eight years in prison for selling a variety of drugs on the darkweb and as well as for money laundering. The defendant was sentenced alongside his wife who authorities believe benefited from the drug trafficking operation that made more $2.4 million.

According to an announcement by the Leicestershire Police, Paul Johnson started selling on the darkweb in early 2015. He used the attic of his home in Northampton Road, Market Harborough, as his base of operations. To conceal the drug trafficking operation Johnson registered a delivery company and rented three homes where he had his drug supplies delivered. Johnson created the Labrador Tea Company to legitimize his source of income. According to the prosecution, he also traded Bitcoin to disguise the true source of his cryptocurrency earnings.

Johnson as pictured in his mugshot | Leicestershire Police

Johnson as pictured in his mugshot | Leicestershire Police

Johnson’s operation came to the attention of law enforcement agencies in August 2016 when the UK Border Control started intercepting and seizing drug packages addressed to the homes rented by Johnson’s company. By November 2017 the authorities had seized a total of 20.8 kilograms of a variety of drugs all addressed to Johnson. The seized drugs included 250 grams of cocaine, 8.1 kilograms of ecstasy, 3 kilograms of ketamine, and more than 9 kilograms of cannabis.

Johnson was arrested on December 13, 2017, when Leicestershire police officers executed a search warrant on his home and found him trading bitcoins on his laptop. The search resulted in the seizure of $9,000 worth of drugs. Police also seized Johnson’s laptop and recovered 22.7 Bitcoins from a number of wallets stored on the seized laptop.

Paul Wenlock of the Economic Crime Unit of the Leicestershire Police force:

Johnson used the internet to commit his crimes, he ran an organized business enterprise and traded in cryptocurrency in an attempt to hide his criminal activity from the authorities. He used his criminal gains to purchase property and cars.

This is one of a handful of cases nationally where cryptocurrency has been used in this way. This result is the testament to the knowledge and experience of the digital media investigators who quickly identified what Johnson was doing online and were able to secure the bitcoins.

On January 24, 2020, Johnson pleaded guilty to supplying class A and B drugs, possession with intent to supply class A drugs, improper importation of goods to the UK, and five counts of money laundering. Johnson’s wife⁠—28-year-old Lia Johnson—also pleaded guilty to four counts of money laundering.

The Johnsons entering court| Yahoo! Finance

The Johnsons entering court| Yahoo! Finance

On February 5, Johnson and his wife appeared at the Leicester Crown Court for their sentencing hearing. The court heard testimonies from the prosecution and the defendants’ attorneys.

Luke Blackburn, Prosecuting:

Paul Johnson did what he did whilst their child was in the house, albeit he worked from the attic. His wife knew what was going on, perhaps not all the details. He’s put her in a difficult position as none of her offending would have happened had it not been for him.

In her case, the money laundering doesn’t represent any drug importation. She says she believed most of his business was connected with computer parts, as he had once worked in that line of business and that’s accepted. She said she knew he was sending out cannabis to some people. She enjoyed the benefits, such as having the vehicles and the house.

The attorneys for the defendants told the court that Johnson started the drug trafficking operation to acquire money to take care of his family. They told the court that the defendants had a modest lifestyle. The court was also told that the couple had no prior convictions.

At the end of the trial, Judge Nicholas Dean sentenced Johnson to eight years in prison. Johnson’s wife was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years.

An asset forfeiture hearing is scheduled for May.