Three members of a cocaine cartel linked to Blackpool star Michael Chopra have been jailed for a total of 33 years.
Kingpin John Somerville had known Chopra and his family for years and the former Newcastle United forward gave evidence in court claiming drugs money was in fact his gambling debts.
However Somerville, Daniel Chisholm and Joseph Lewins were convicted of conspiracy to supply cocaine after a trial last year.
Now Somerville and Chisholm have been locked up for 12 years each while Lewins got nine years.
Ronald Moon, caught with the £50,000 of dirty money Chopra claimed was his, was locked up for 15 months.
Jailing the gang at Newcastle Crown Court, a judge said garage owner Somerville already had a successful business and had turned to commercial-scale dealing out of greed.
Police were on Somerville’s tail in April 2010 when they saw him throw a £12,500 block of cocaine out of the window of his Range Rover in Gateshead.
That day, officers had followed him from his home to Sunderland to pick up Chisholm. After a short time Chisholm was seen to get out of Somerville’s car, which then headed back towards Newcastle.
It turned off, went out of sight of the police for a few seconds, and when officers finally caught up with Somerville he had no drugs on him.
However, they then found 248g of cocaine on a patch of grass nearby, which he had dumped.
Officers watched on CCTV later that night as a team of men turned up in a minibus looking for the package. Seven months later police raided Lewins’ flat in Washington and found it had been turned into a drugs factory. They recovered cocaine worth up to £750,000.
Prosecutors say Somerville and Chisholm were “linked together in their drug dealing”, while Lewins allowed his home to be used to prepare and cut the cocaine.
Somerville, 53, of Sheringham Avenue, Kenton, whose last conviction was in 1998 for conspiracy to supply class B drugs, was convicted of conspiracy to supply cocaine.
Chisholm, 51, of Franklin Street, Sunderland, whose 99 previous convictions include drugs charges, was also convicted of conspiracy to supply.
Lewins, 55, of Malvern Road, Lambton, Washington, who has previous for possessing drugs, was also found guilty of conspiracy to supply cocaine.
Ronald Moon, 46, of Severn Road, Liverpool, pleaded guilty to money laundering.
Richard Bloomfield, for Somerville, said: “It is not the case that he has been using his business as a cover, there is no evidence his business was in any way involved with the drugs.”
Andrew Rutter, defending Chisholm said: “This is his first involvement with class A drugs.”
Caroline Goodwin, for Lewins, who described himself as a mug for letting the others turn his house into a cocaine factory, said he had “learned a hard lesson”.
Moon’s barrister said he did not know the £50,000 he picked up from Somerville was the proceeds of crime.
Chopra’s gambling debts were at the centre of the drugs trial in November.
The footballer told a court how he blew £2m on gambling after getting hooked as a teenager on the Newcastle United team bus.
Chopra said bets worth up to £30,000 a time would be laid between team-mates when he first broke into the squad aged 17.
Chopra told jurors the £50,000 of drugs cash was in fact his gambling debts after Somerville helped him when loan sharks came after him.
He said underworld figures had started turning up at the training ground of his then club, Ipswich, issuing threats and demanding £300,000 and said Somerville acted as a go-between on his behalf.
Chopra told jurors at Newcastle Crown Court how he first got involved with gambling when he broke into the Newcastle first team.
The striker said by the time he was 18 his gambling had become a problem and he owed £85,000.
And he said his addiction got so bad he would even set his alarm for 3am to get up to bet on games in South America.
Chopra said one of the reasons he moved from Cardiff to Sunderland was to put the signing on fee towards his debts.
And he told jurors how when he was playing for Ipswich loan sharks who he owed hundreds of thousands to would threaten him at the training ground.
Chopra’s dad, Minty, also gave evidence about the cash, saying his son’s gambling had left him humiliated and embarrassed.
Minty said he was forced to spend his savings, and investments and downsize his home.