A Jersey pair has been sent behind bars after being caught red-handed trying to smuggle more than £100,000 of suspected drug money in vacuum-sealed bags to a gang in France under the cover of darkness.
Scaffolder Sean Liam Cooney (29) and jobseeker Joseph John Reaney (31) planned to launch a Rib from St. Catherine's slipway in the early hours of 15 December 2021 - but their plan ultimately failed when it emerged their vessel was faulty and they were forced to return to shore, where undercover surveillance officers were waiting to arrest them.
Details of the failed mission were shared in the Royal Court yesterday, as the pair were sentenced to five years imprisonment and three years and nine months' respectively.
Crown Advocate Matthew Maletroit explained to the court that the plan was hatched by the pair between 26 October and 15 December 2021.
Cooney and Reaney had already been under the watch of the Police and Customs at the time, after telling Customs officers they had spent a week in Amsterdam together to "chill" when they were stopped after arriving in Jersey on a flight from Heathrow at the end of October.
Pictured- from left to right: Liam Cooney (29) and Joseph John Reaney (31)
The first part of the plan involved acquiring a vessel.
While still in Amsterdam, Cooney - using the false name 'Liam Le Long' - sent a Facebook message to a member of the public advertising a rib for sale. Days later, he gave the seller £5,200 in return for the Rib.
Shortly after acquiring the Rib, 'Liam' then arranged to store the vessel at a farm in St. Martin.
The manager of the farm helped the pair manoeuvre the Rib into the storage space - and noticed at the time that the BMW the pair were using was unsuitable for towing a trailer and Rib of that size.
Investigations by surveillance officers revealed that that BMW had been given to Cooney by a woman who had paid him to scrap it. She was unaware the car remained use.
Around 12:30 on 11 December, the duo were spotted reversing the BMW to the water's edge at St. Catherine's Slip, attaching the Rib to the trailer, and then driving back up in what surveillance officers believed was a practice run.
Three days later, the pair went to JJ Fox Trading, where they bought £37.19-worth of vacuum sealable plastic bags in the name of 'Jack Johnson'. Reaney used Cooney's Revolut bank card to pay.
Pictured: The Rib used by the pair during their attempted smuggling operation.
Moments later, he returned to the showroom to cancel the transaction - then made a new purchase for an even bigger bag for £106.33, again using Cooney's card.
Around 03:00 the following day, the pair were spotted by undercover officers arriving at St. Catherine's slipway in the BMW.
20 minutes later, they were observed getting onto the Rib and heading east past St. Catherine's Breakwater without any lights switch on.
However, by 04:00, Cooney and Reaney were back at the slip - one got off, carrying a picnic cooler box, while the other secured the Rib to a mooring before heading back to the slip using a paddle board.
As they neared their car, surveillance officers revealed themselves and arrested both on suspicion of importing drugs, and proceeded to search them. Officers noticed that Cooney was wearing plastic latex gloves, while Reaney was carrying the picnic box - when they looked inside, they found £112,945 sealed in vacuum bags.
Pictured: The picnic box containing £112,945 sealed in vacuum bags.
Cooney's phone was seized, and searches revealed a series of screenshots of weather forecasts and nautical charts of the Jersey and French coasts, as well as suspicious messages with contacts known as 'Grenadelaucher' and 'Davyboy', who appeared to be responsible for taking delivery of the dirty money on the French coast.
Fingerprints recovered from the sealed cash bags and the notes inside were found to match those held on the National Fingerprint Database for Reaney.
Both defendants were interviewed the day after being arrested, but provided "no comment" answers. When they were first charged in the Magistrate's Court, Reaney, who was said to be in debt due to a gambling habit, pleaded guilty right away.
Meanwhile Cooney denied the crime. In a defence statement he filed, he denied any knowledge or involvement with money laundering and referred to the fictitious person 'Liam La Long'.
He was due to face trial in January 2023, but finally changed his plea to guilty in November 2022.
Pictured: Both defendants were sentenced in the Royal Court on Friday.
It was a factor taken into account - alongside his 34 previous convictions - when he was sentenced in the Royal Court on Friday to a prison term that was one year and three months longer than his criminal colleague Reaney.
Defending Cooney, Advocate Darry Robinson called for "mercy", describing his client's attempt to hide behind 'Liam La Long' as an act that was "hardly that of a criminal mastermind".
Advocate James Bell called Reaney's involvement as "unsophisticated", said he was "genuinely remorseful" and argued that he should get credit for his early guilty plea.
The court agreed, with Commissioner Sir William Bailhache explaining the court did "not get the impression that [Cooney] accepts responsibility for what he has done" and had reflected the approaches of the two defendants in their sentences.
Speaking after the sentencing, Customs and Immigration Senior Manager Luke Goddard said: 'The arrest and conviction of those involved in the movement of criminal assets is a priority for the Customs and Immigration Service.
"This case demonstrates the lengths criminals will go to in order to move the proceeds of their criminal activity and the measures that will be taken by this Service in order to prevent them from doing so.
"Undoubtedly the actions of this Service have dismantled a criminal syndicate that was based in the island."
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