A judge jailed a gang of Albanian cannabis farmers last week and told them it was a warning to others tempted to come to the region to sell the drug.

Judge Jonathan Carroll locked up all four members of the Hartlepool-based drugs gang when they appeared at Teesside Crown Court after a £200,000 haul of cannabis was recovered.

He said: "There is a well-established, significant issue in this area with Albanian drug gangs doing precisely this. It comes a point when sentences must have a deterrent element."

Zenel Tusha, 26; Mirush Tusha, 23; Leo Metushi, 38; and 23-year-old Petrit Tusha, all of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis with intent to supply.

Metushi and Zenel Tusha were jailed for 20 months each while Petrit and Mirush Tusha were both locked up for 19 months each.

The Northern Echo: Hartlepool cannabis gang locked up. Pictures: CLEVELAND POLICEHartlepool cannabis gang locked up. Pictures: CLEVELAND POLICE (Image: Cleveland Police)

Today, The Northern Echo looks at some of the other Albanian drug dealers and growers who have been locked up in the region.

Cannabis farmer

A man brought to this country illegally was placed in a domestic cannabis farm set-up to care for the plants to help to repay his debt to his traffickers.

Visar Vercani was arrested when police executed a search warrant at an address in Station Road West, Trimdon Station, on June 24.

Durham Crown Court was told police recovered 145 healthy plants in various stage of growth from several rooms.

Heat lamps and fans were fitted in each growing room, with the electricity meter bypassed allowing free power for the operation.

Philip Morley, prosecuting, said Vercani, who is originally from Albania, told police he was brought to this country illegally after his asylum application failed.

The Northern Echo: Visar Vercani. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABULARYVisar Vercani. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABULARY

He was placed in the property at Trimdon Station and told to care for the plants, being ‘paid’ £100 every couple of weeks to cover his living expenses.

The 23-year-old defendant, who has no criminal record in this country, admitted producing a class B drug at an earlier hearing.

Imposing a 12-month prison sentence, Judge Adkin told Vercani that he would serve half of that before being deported back to Albania.

The judge also ordered forfeiture and destruction of the cannabis plants and growing equipment.


Caught again

TWO men were caught tending a large-scale domestic cannabis farm less than two years after being arrested for similar activity.

Mirush Kula and fellow Albanian national Sami Lame were present when police, armed with a drug warrant, raided a flat above a pub in Trafalgar Street, Consett, on March 24.

Durham Crown Court was told Lame was found hiding in the loft, where he was shaking when police detained him.

The Northern Echo: Mirush KulaMirush Kula

Robin Turton, prosecuting, said the officers recovered 248 cannabis plants with a potential yield of up to 21-kilograms, and capable of raising between £70,000 and £210,000 in street sale values.

Both men were arrested and admitted producing cannabis, in Lame’s he said he had only been at the address having arrived in the North East five days earlier.

Mr Turton said Lame received a nine-month prison sentence for producing cannabis at Nottingham Crown Court last year and was only released in February this year.

The Northern Echo: Sami Lame. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABULARYSami Lame. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABULARY

At the time of his arrest in Consett, Kula was under investigation for his role tending a cannabis grow in a residential street in Luton, Bedfordshire, from where police recovered 122 plants in November 2020.

Both 36-year-old Kula, of no fixed abode, and his 25-year-old co-accused, of Bedford, admitted the latest offence of producing cannabis.

Judge Ray Singh said both were playing a role in a “significant” cannabis grow, in both cases their second such involvement in under two years, expecting to receive financial reward.

Imposing 20-month prison sentences on both, Judge Singh said Kula faces deportation on his release at the mid-point in the sentence, while Lame would have to await the outcome of the Home Office inquiries into his asylum status.


London link

A cannabis farmer brought from London to oversee an illicit grow in County Durham has received a two-year prison sentence.

But Fjorelo Rama is likely to be deported at the mid-point of the sentence as he is in the UK illegally.

The 25-year-old Albanian national was arrested after police, accompanied by electricity company engineers, visited a property in Ouston, near Chester-le-Street, on Monday, June 20.

Lewis Kerr, prosecuting, said the door had to be forced open to enable the officers to gain access, but Rama ran off and was apprehended and arrested later.

The Northern Echo: Fjorelo Rama. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABLARYFjorelo Rama. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABLARY

Officers searching the property found three rooms given over to the production of cannabis, with a total of 238 plants in various stages of growth recovered.

Mr Kerr said the estimated value of the cannabis in terms of sales was put at £75,000.

Judge Ray Singh described it as “an extremely professional set-up” and the defendant would have been aware of its scale.

“The equipment used had cost somebody the best part of £11,000.

“Whoever installed that level of equipment was clearly going to expect to make a profit from it.”


Barbers shop

EVIDENCE of what appeared to have been a “substantial” cannabis farm was found by police in living quarters above a village barber’s shop.

As officers arrived to search the premises, in Ushaw Moor, on March 2 this year, two men present, Albanian nationals Ardit Bytyci and Anolit Domi, were in the throes of dismantling the growing equipment.

Durham Crown Court heard that the property was let to Bytyci to run a hairdressing business.

But on the first floor it appeared that all four rooms had been used for the growth of cannabis, each with the electricity meter bypassed to provide a free power supply.

The Northern Echo: Ardit Bytyci. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABULARYArdit Bytyci. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABULARY

Peter Sabiston, prosecuting, said in one of the rooms a bag was found containing 179 manicured cannabis buds, while there were widespread signs of a growing operation having taken place, with heating and lighting equipment, fans, empty plant pots, nutrient containers and other bags filled with plant ‘detritus’, including stalks and leaves.

Bytyci, 27, and his 24-year-old co-accused, whose addresses were given as Station Road, Ushaw Moor, previously denied being concerned in the production of a class B drug.

But, on the day of their scheduled trial the charge was put again and both changed plea, admitting the offence.

Imposing a 21-month prison sentence on Bytyci and nine months on Domi, Judge Ray Singh said they would spend the first half of their sentences in custody, “and thereafter it’s for the Home Office to decide what to do with you.”

The judge also ordered destruction of the recovered cannabis and growing paraphernalia.


Seaham farmer

Rolomol Cipi was arrested at a house in Alexandrina Street, in Seaham, from where 48 cannabis plants were recovered by police, on July 3.

He received a 13-month prison sentence for his role as a “mere” gardener overseeing an illicit grow in Seaham.

Durham Crown Court was told the electricity meter was bypassed allowing the grower free power supply.

The 25-year-old defendant, speaking via an Albanian interpreter, recently admitted producing a class B drug and abstraction of electricity.

The Northern Echo: Rolomol Cipi. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABULARYRolomol Cipi. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABULARY

Judge James Adkin imposed the 13-month prison sentence, telling the defendant he would serve half in custody and after that he would be deported.

He was told that the prosecution accepted the defence basis that Cipi was no higher in the chain than the gardener in the operation.


Ferryhill farm

A LONE ‘gardener’ was found to be tending a cannabis grow in a terraced street in a County Durham town.

Police accompanied by enforcement officers from an electricity company visited the premises in Davy Street, Ferryhill, on Friday June 17 armed with a search warrant, due to concerns raised over the tampering of the power supply.

The Northern Echo: Arbjol Cami. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABULARYArbjol Cami. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABULARY

Durham Crown Court was told the only individual present, defendant Arbjol Cami, an Albanian national, was arrested and a search confirmed the power supply had been bypassed and was in a dangerous condition.

The officers, immediately aware of the strong smell of cannabis, found a full growing set up in two bedrooms, from where they recovered 53 plants.

Judge Ray Singh told Cami: “It’s to your credit that you pleaded guilty at the first hearing.

“You are 21, still relatively young, and you became involved in serious criminality by producing cannabis and abstracting electricity.

“You were aware of the scale of the operation because you were there, right in the middle of it.

“As such, in my view, you performed a significant role.”

He imposed a 20-month prison sentence and told Cami, via an Albanian interpreter, that it would have been 30 months, but for his early admissions.


Mining village

AN illegal immigrant was brought to a house in the North East to act as a gardener in a cannabis growing operation, a court heard.

As Eridon Hasanpapaj was in debt to those who brought him to the UK illegally he felt had no choice but to comply when driven from London and brought to the former County Durham mining village of Thornley.

Durham Crown Court was told he was placed in a house in Asquith Street which had been fitted with up to £3,000-worth of professional growing equipment.

Officers found cannabis plants growing “wall to wall” in two upstairs bedrooms, fitted with lighting, fans and timers, while the electricity meter was bypassed, providing free power.

The Northern Echo: Eridon Hasanpapaj. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABULARYEridon Hasanpapaj. Picture: DURHAM CONSTABULARY

Shaun Dodds, prosecuting, said a total of 63 plants, of between six and eight weeks into cultivation, were recovered.

They were given a valuation in terms of potential sales of between £17,000 and £52,000.

Judge Ray Singh said although he was only placed there as the ‘gardener’, the defendant would have been aware of the scale of the operation.

Imposing a 12-month prison sentence, Judge Singh said the defendant would serve half and then, “I would anticipate”, be deported.

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