An organised crime group (OCG) who trafficked over £300,000 of Class-A drugs into Plymouth have today been sentenced to 20 years in prison at Exeter Crown Court.
The group, who operated between Plymouth, London and Cyprus, transported large quantities of heroin and crack cocaine between August 2016 and July 2017.
Local couriers based in Plymouth were collecting and delivering drugs between London and Plymouth, while the leader of the group relocated to Cyprus where he ran the financial side of the business.
George Pikounis, aged 29, from Cyprus was the lead organiser of the group. He was sentenced to eight years.
Martin Payne, aged 27, from Plymouth, was the lieutenant of the group and received a sentence of six years.
Helen Katsigianni, aged 67, from London was an organiser and courier. She was given a three and a half year sentence.
Alan Welch, aged 45, from Plymouth was a local courier and money launderer. He was sentenced to 15 months, suspended for 2 years.
Nicola Baxter, aged 39, from Plymouth, was a Plymouth-based courier. She was sentenced to two years, suspended for two years.
In April 2017, officers from the Serious and Organised Crime Investigations Unit [SOCIT] began an investigation into the group’s activity. It revealed that the couriers regularly travelled between London and Plymouth to exchange drugs and money, which was either deposited into a controlled bank account or taken out to Cyprus.
Over the 10 month investigation, police seized crack cocaine and heroin with an estimated street value of over £300,000 that had been trafficked by the group. Other evidence including mobile phones, bank cards and CCTV imagery was also captured.
The investigation revealed that Pikounis was heading up the group from his home in Pyla, Cyprus, where he was in control of three bank accounts that local couriers would deposit money into.
His mother, Katsigianni, was living in London but frequently flying out to visit Pikounis and deliver further payments to him.
Katsagianni would also visit Devon to deliver drugs to the local couriers, Baxter and Welch who would distribute it into local communities. The investigation showed the Katsigianni would regularly travel to Devon and stay up to half an hour before travelling back to London.
Baxter and Welch were also found to be travelling up to London, stopping for 20 minutes in the area where Katsigianni lived, before travelling back to Plymouth.
Officers from Devon and Cornwall Police, assisted by The National Crime Agency, Cypriot Law Enforcement Agencies and the Larnaca Drugs Squad, travelled to Cyprus on 25 July 2017 to arrest Pikounis at his home in Pyla. He was held by Cypriot courts before being extradited to the UK the following week.
At the time of the arrest in Cyprus, officers also arrested Katsigianni at her home in London, to minimise loss of evidence.
The other members of the group were arrested in Plymouth a week later, in early August 2017.
In September 2017, the group attended Exeter Crown Court for a plea hearing. Pikounis and Baxter entered guilty pleas for conspiring to supply heroin and cocaine. Payne pleaded guilty to conspiracy supply cocaine but not guilty for the supply of heroin.
The remaining two defendants pled not guilty at the September hearing and opted to stand trial in May 2018. During the 10 day trial, Katsigianni changed her plea due to overwhelming evidence.
Welch was deemed too unwell to stand trial and his case was adjourned until June 2018. At trial, he entered a guilty plea for money laundering.
Payne was found guilty by the jury of conspiring to supply heroin, and money laundering.
All five were sentenced at Exeter Crown Court on Friday 31 August to a total of 20 years.
Investigating officer, Detective Constable Chris Louca said: “Devon and Cornwall Police are committed to tackling serious and organised criminality that impinges on the communities within our force.
“The investigation team produced over 10,000 pages of evidence that provided the court with a detailed account of the many facets of the investigation, including mobile phone data and financial records. The level of detail in the evidence was key to the defendants entering early guilty pleas and successfully convicting those who chose to stand trial.
“This investigation demonstrates the capacity and ability to investigate serious crime where the main subject is not living in the United Kingdom, but still committing offences that directly impacts our communities.
“Devon and Cornwall Police will and continue to seek to bring those responsible for serious offences within the area, regardless of where they reside.
“We would like to thank the Cypriot Law Enforcement Agencies and the National Crime Agency for their assistance in the overseas arrest and extradition of Pikounis.”