A jeweller who used his Central Market business to launder money for a criminal gang which tried to smuggle nearly £1m of illegal drugs in Jersey has been sent to jail for seven-and-a-half years.
Darius Pearce (49) cleaned dirty money on behalf of an enterprise that tried to smuggle £919,000-worth of cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis into Jersey in June 2019.
The audacious plot - which involved landing the drugs from a yacht sailed over from the UK - was described as the most complex drug-related and money laundering investigation ever undertaken by the Jersey authorities.
Seven of the gang members caught by ‘Operation Lion’ were sentenced by the Royal Court in September 2020, after they had pleaded guilty to various offences.
Mr Pearce was the only suspect in Jersey to maintain his innocence - however, he was found guilty of three charges of money laundering after a six-day trial last December.
Pictured: Members of the drugs ring Pearce had been associated with, were jailed in September.
Today, after a protracted legal process - lengthened by Pearce being uncooperative with the investigation, rejecting defence lawyers, and making various “vexatious” applications to the court, including asking for trial by combat - the jeweller and former political candidate was sent to prison for crimes committed two years ago.
Explaining Pearce’s involvement, Crown Advocate Matthew Maletroit said: “The defendant [Pearce] used his jewellery business to facilitate the movement of criminal property from Jersey to the UK through the purchase and sale of bullion.
“This enabled cash to be removed from the Island and provided to members of the enterprise in the UK under the cover of legitimate transactions, and without the cash being carried out of the jurisdiction.
“The process was straightforward, effected in four simple steps. Firstly, a sum of cash would be handed to the defendant at his jewellery shop.
“Secondly, the defendant would deposit that cash into his personal and business bank accounts.
“Thirdly, the defendant would use the cash to purchase gold bullion from a dealer based in Hatton Garden in London.
“Fourthly, the gold would be collected from the London dealer and sold for cash.
“The cash would then be available to UK-based members of the criminal enterprise to be used to purchase drugs, or otherwise to cover the operating costs of the enterprise.”
Advocate Maletroit added: “The defendant provided a laundering service to a criminal enterprise that was engaged in the importation and supply of Class A and Class B controlled drugs in Jersey on a commercial scale.
“He successfully provided a method of moving significant quantities of cash to the UK without members of the enterprise having to expose themselves to the risk of being caught in possession of the cash.
“It was a crucial part of the operation.”
Defending himself, as he did during the trial, Pearce said he now had a diagnosed dissocial personality disorder, which made him less interested in people, which, in turn, made him less suspicious.
This is why had been able to be used by the criminal gang, he said.
Addressing his lack of cooperation with the police, he added: “I mistakenly believed that the police had frozen my business account.
“I became angry about this and my attitude to the police was regrettable.
“It is hard to convey the emotional distress that I was under at that time. The catastrophic freezing account for a month put me in so much debt and from that point on, I ceased to place enough value on myself.
“Everything after that led to this and I have no one to blame but myself.”
Pictured: The 37-foot yacht Loxley B was chartered from Hamble Point Marina for the smuggling attempt in June 2019.
Although accepting that he had been found guilty of money laundering, Pearce maintained that he was unaware that he had been helping a criminal gang and his penalty should be less than the shortest sentence - two years’ in prison - given to the members of the enterprise in the Royal Court last year.
But the Royal Court - Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith, sitting with Jurats Rozanne Thomas, Jane Ronge and Steven Austin-Vautier - disagreed, instead accepting the seven-and-a-half-year sentence proposed by the Crown.
After sentencing, Attorney General Mark Temple said: “I welcome the sentence handed down by the Court which again shows that Jersey is committed to combatting money laundering and ensuring that Jersey businesses cannot be utilised for the movement of criminal property.
“The sentence will serve as a deterrent to those who might be tempted to become concerned in this type of offending.
“It sends a very clear signal that Jersey is not open for business of this sort.”
Detective Chief Inspector Craig Jackson added: “This was a large complex investigation which involved a number of suspects and significant analysis. Pearce changed his story several times along the way but the evidence was strong and his sentence now adds to the 74 years custody that the Royal Court sanctioned in 2020 to the other seven offenders investigated as part of Operation Lion.”
Pearce's Central Market shop has now closed and his assets passed onto his brother, Thaddeus, who is also a jeweller. The Viscount's Department is currently compiling an inventory of assets, which will form part of a forthcoming confiscation hearing.
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