Taxi driver turned drug dealer ‘to pay off debts’

Raymond Connolly and girlfriend Zoey McDonald
Raymond Connolly and girlfriend Zoey McDonald

A TAXI driver who turned to drug dealing has been jailed for six years after drugs worth up to £80,000 were found in his home.

Raymond Connolly had a stash of cocaine, Ecstasy, amphetamine and a cannabis farm growing in is loft at his home in Lodore Grove, Jarrow, when police raided his house in November 2013.

Miss McDonald said she was aware there were drugs in the property and knew her partner was selling the drugs. She wanted him to stop but was willing to take money to pay household bills.

A further haul of amphetamine and skunk cannabis was recovered during a second search four months later.

Connolly, 49, admitted possessing the drugs with intent to supply and possessing £8,851 in cash proceeds from his dealing at Newcastle Crown Court yesterday.

He told police he started dealing to cope with crippling family debts of about £30,000.

His girlfriend Zoey McDonald, 27, also of Lodore Grove, was given a 20-month jail term, suspended for two years, with 200 hours’ unpaid work for her involvement in his illegal enterprise, which included taking messages from customers.

Mr Recorder Henry Prosser told Connolly: “You had a significant role in dealing drugs on a commercial basis.

“A large amount of money was found at your house and the value of the drugs was very significant.

“I accept that, in the first place, you were motivated by a desire to pay off your debts but it does seem to me that it was not very long before you ceased trying to pay off the debts, and those debts apparently remain.”

McDonald admitted being concerned in drug supply and possessing criminal property on the basis she was not aware of the amount of money being kept in her home and that her involvement in dealing related to just passing on messages to her partner.

Mark Guiliani, prosecuting, told the crown officers had executed a search warrant at the couple’s three-bed semi on November 22, 2013 and found 136g of cannabis, 300 ecstasy tablets, six kilos of amphetamine and a £644 cannabis farm.

The haul was worth a potential £75,000 when sold on the streets.

During the raid £8,851 in cash was seized, along with a VW transporter mini bus and a Vauxhaul Corsa van, which prosecutors claim were bought with drugs money

There was also a stock of cutting agents, used to prepare the drugs for street sale.

Mr Guiliani said: “Mr Connolly admitted he was selling drugs and said he had been £30,000 in debt, although he has not tried to pay off the debts.

“Miss McDonald said she was aware there were drugs in the property and knew her partner was selling the drugs. She wanted him to stop but was willing to take money to pay household bills.”

The court heard that, just four months after the raid, on March 7 last year, a second search warrant was obtained for the couple’s house.

This time officers seized 200g of amphetamine and 100g skunk cannabis, worth up to £5,100 on the streets. Peter Schofield, defending Connolly, said the cabbie lost his livelihood as a result of his arrest and had not been living an extravagant lifestyle.

Mr Schofield added: “He wishes to state Miss McDonald’s involvement in respect of these matters was peripheral. It was his responsibility.

“He is upset she should be implicated in this and next to him in the dock because he considers the most she has been involved with are peripheral matters, things because they shared the same household.”

Mr Schofield said Connolly is concerned for his young child and feels ashamed of what he has done.

Vic Laffey, defending McDonald, said the mum felt “trapped” in the situation she was in and has never been in trouble before.

Prosecutors will now pursue Connolly under the Proceeds of Crime Act to seize any assets he has gained through his criminal activity.

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