Three members of a gang arrested at a vacant house in possession of a large amount of cannabis leaves and cash, have been jailed for 27 months each.

Kladian and Leonard Cela, and Gentian Medulaj were among four men arrested after police were alerted by neighbours to banging noises coming from the supposedly unoccupied house, in Byerley Road, Shildon, late on April 28.

Durham Crown Court heard that officers attended and found 50 one kilo vacuum-sealed bags of cannabis in the loft space.

Collectively a total of £60,000 was also recovered in bundles, while, separately, one of the four men present had £400 on him and the other had £300.

Read more: Cannabis grower placed in County Durham home to repay debt

Paul Cross, prosecuting, said the recovered cannabis could have fetched £225,000 in a bulk purchase, or £500,000 if sold in individual deals.

Three of the men made no reply to police questioning, but Leonard Cela gave an account of how he came to be at that address and how he had been working previously in cannabis farms.

He told police he hoped to make about £3,000 from his activities, “a significant financial benefit” for men in their position.

Mr Cross said all four men, Albanian nationals who are illegally present in the UK, have nothing previously recorded against them, crime-wise, in this country.

Kladian Cela, 35, 41-year-old Leonard Cela, 23-year-old Medulaj and a fourth accused, Alfred Hoxha, 27, each admitted possessing a class B drug with intent to supply and possessing criminal property, the money.

Andrew Walker, for Leonard Cela, told the court: “Once again the court is dealing with the end result of people trafficking and the misery and exploitation that brings by those people traded in.

“Individuals like this defendant are sold the aspiration of work on a construction site, but the reality turns out to be different.

“They carried out a basic functional role for the benefit of others.

“In interview he confessed and at the magistrates’ court indicated it would be a guilty plea.

“He’s signed the relevant papers with the Borders’ Agency, so he can be returned to his native country at the earliest opportunity.”

Chris Baker, for Kladian Cela, told the court: “He came to this country as an economic migrant as his child was ill in Albania.

“I don’t want to put any gloss on his position. He’s worked hard in prison and wishes now to return to Albania as soon as he can, but he knows he will receive a prison sentence.”

Peter Hamill, for Medulaj, told the court: “He’s 23 and came here in the hope of making a better life for himself.

“Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to obtain employment lawfully and, regrettably, he’s made this decision which leads him here today.

“His involvement was brief and relatively limited.”

Sentencing three of the men, Judge James Adkin said: “You were caught red-handed in joint possession of £60,000 and 50-kilos of cannabis, drug valued at between £225,000 and £500,000.

Read more: Man jailed for growth of cannabis in County Durham

“You are all Albanian illegal immigrants employed to undertake work for criminal gangs for cash.

“You were unloading your drugs and proceeds of crime and storing them for others.

“You were all to be rewarded on way or another, either by a reduction in your debt or by cash payments.”

Judge Adkin said they must have been aware of the scale of the operation even though they claimed to have played a limited function, under direction.

Imposing 27-month prison sentence on all three, he said they must serve half of their jail terms, before being deported from the UK.

He will sentence the fourth gang member, Hoxha, on a day to be fixed shortly.

Read next:

               Jailed cannabis farmer said he was acting under orders tending grow in Seaham

               Pair were dismantling cannabis farm when Durham Police raided premises

               Consett: Albanian men jailed after second arrest in two years for growing cannabis

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