For a man whose biofuels business was making no money, Jamie Dale appeared to be doing rather well for himself. He went on holiday to Las Vegas, he bought expensive jewellery and even his luxury watch was embedded with £10,000 of diamonds.
But using a front business in "green, clean" fuels, Dale was quietly running Britain's biggest service industry for the drugs trade. Over three years, the 32-year-old and his accomplices imported tonnes of chemicals - used legally by dentists and vets - to mix with cocaine and potentially bulked up dealers' profits by more than £3.5 billion, according to police and prosecutors.
Dale was yesterday convicted at Leeds Crown Court following a ten-week trial of three counts of conspiracy to supply drugs after bringing in 36 tonnnes of cutting agent from India and China – nearly the same amount of cocaine is smuggled into the country every year.
From his Rochdale base, he organised the distribution of the chemicals around the country to gangs to mix with class A drugs to sell on the streets.
"If someone snorted cocaine up to 2008, there's a fair chance they snorted some of the cuttings agents that Dale imported," said senior investigator John Wright of the Serious Organised Crime Agency which ran the operation.
The scale of the operation was so large that during the three years Dale was operating, he imported a fifth of the world's demand for benzocaine, used normally for sunburn, insect bites and dental treatment.
Dale, who is married with a young child, also shipped tonnes of paracetamol and caffeine into the country, often used for cutting heroin.
Dale's role was revealed after a barrel that he bought was found during a drugs bust in Bournemouth. Police placed electronic tracking devices inside future shipments and followed them across the country.
Seizures from Bristol to Rotherham on the back of the surveillance operation netted drugs with cutting agents supplied by Dale and linked him to the drugs trade.
The case shed light on the economics of the drugs trade and the importance of the cheap chemicals to the bottom line for drug dealers.
A kilogramme of 80 percent pure Colombian cocaine could fetch £50,000 on the street. Bulked out with chemicals that cost less than £10 a kilo could net them nearly £280,000, according to investigators. Some drug seizures are found to have a purity of less than 10 per cent.
While the bulk of the profits went to the drug dealers, Dale appeared to be making a good living and was enjoying the trappings of success. When police raided his home to arrest Dale in 2008, he was dressed only in his underpants and was trying to flee with a carrier bag containing £50,000.
One of his accomplices, Barry Hartley, 63, a convicted drugs dealer who provided the link to drugs gangs and owned fourteen showjumping horses was also convicted. A third man John Cawley, 31 was also convicted. They are due to be sentenced tomorrow.
Mr Wright said: "Without criminals such as Jamie Dale, cocaine would cost users four or five times as much, making it prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of the country, and consequently far less accessible."