Three men at the centre of a £750,000 cocaine trial where North East football star Michael Chopra gave evidence, have been convicted of a drug supply conspiracy.
The former Newcastle United and Sunderland striker, now at Blackpool, told jurors a £50,000 cash bundle in the footwell of a Jaguar was being used to pay off his gambling debts.
Prosecutors at Newcastle Crown Court claimed it was drug money which was linked to a “cocaine factory” found at Joseph Lewin’s home in Washington.
Jurors heard his flat, at Malvern Road, Washington, was used to process, package and distribute high grade cocaine and was kitted out with the necessary equipment to do so.
It was claimed the £50,000 cash was to be part-payment for the 68 per cent pure, two-kilogram batch seized at the flat by police, who had the gang under surveillance in the weeks before their arrest in 2010.
During the trial, the gang said the allegations against them were “ridiculous” and tried to shift the blame onto the late Stuart Mottram, a man who was known in Sunderland as “Benny the Brick”.
Chopra gave evidence for the defence, claiming the £50,000 found in a black bin-bag in the luxury car was being used to pay off loan sharks who were after him to settle a gambling debt. The footballer told the court his family came under threat as he struggled to pay back cash he had blown through his £2m gambling addiction.
Joseph Lewins, 55, of Malvern Road, Washington, Daniel Chisholm, 51, then of Franklin Street, Christopher Bacon, 34, of Wendover Close, Witherwack, both Sunderland and John Somerville, 53, of Sheringham Avenue, Kenton, all denied conspiracy to supply Class A drugs throughout.
At the end of a trial, lasting almost a month, Lewins, Chisholm and Somerville were all found guilty.
Bacon was found not guilty.
The three convicted men were remanded in custody and will be sentenced at a later date.
Chopra told the court he had known Somerville since he was a boy and the car mechanic had frequently helped him out over the years.