Police smash international drug gang: £4 million laundered, Xanax pills sold worldwide. Brian Pitts and Katie Barlow ran the operation from a luxury Thai residence in Bangkok. Ten convicted after an extensive investigation and raids in the UK.

UK police on Wednesday celebrated the end of an extensive case which smashed an international drug distribution gang. The drugs were counterfeit versions of Xanax, a Pfizer pharmaceutical product. Ten people in all are now facing sentencing before the court. In the course of a criminal trial for two of the accused, it emerged that the extensive operation which laundered £4 million in 2018 and 2019 through Bitcoin was run from Thailand. 29-year-old Brian Pitts and partner Katie Barlow marketed Xanax on the dark web from a luxury residence in the kingdom. They were arrested in 2019 just after flying in from Bangkok at a modest house in the UK’s Black Country.

(Left) 29-year-old Brian Pitts and (Right) 26-year-old Katie Harlow masterminded the Xanax counterfeiting operations from Bangkok in Thailand. The pair lived in a luxurious home with a private swimming pool. In 2018 and 2019 alone, the operation laundered a recorded amount of £4 million through Bitcoin. Both were arrested in 2019 after they flew into the United Kingdom from Thailand. Presently, they await sentencing by Wolverhampton Magistrates Court in the UK’s Midlands. (Source: West Midlands Police, UK)

Ten people in the West Midlands region of the UK this week stood convicted before the courts of manufacturing fake Xanax tablets and exporting them worldwide.

Earlier this month, prosecutor Jenny Joseph told Wolverhampton Crown Court that the international drug dealing operation was run from Thailand. The masterminds of the scheme were 29-year-old Brian Pitts and his partner Katie Harlow.

Both masterminds had already pleaded guilty before the last two accused were convicted on Wednesday at Wolverhampton Crown Court in the United Kingdom

In short, both had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute Class C drugs, trademark infringement, and money laundering. In addition, six others, including friends and family, also tendered guilty pleas.

This week, on June 19th, two remaining suspects, 25-year-old Jordan Pitts and 24-year-old Bladen Roper, were found guilty of similar offences. Jordan Pitts had previously been arrested in 2018 when police found a fake Xanax tablet in his bedroom.

At that time, Brian Pitts and Ms Harlow were living in Thailand near Bangkok.

From there, they successfully laundered at least £4 million in proceeds from the drug manufacturing operations in the UK Midlands. Certainly, this was just for the 2018/2019 period.

The pair lived in a luxury residence in the kingdom, complete with a private swimming pool. Both were subsequently arrested in the United Kingdom in 2019. 

UK couple nabbed by UK police in a swoop on a Black Country property after their return  from Thailand in 2019 loaded with Rolex watches and luxury handbags

Police swooped on them at an address on Beeches Road in Wednesbury. The modest three-bedroomed property was in the UK’s West Midlands or ‘Black Country’.

In particular, the pair were found by police with luxury Rolex watches and designer bags in their luggage. They had just flown in from Thailand with another gang member.

Simultaneously, police also raided a shed in Tipton. Certainly, at this site, they found an illicit pill-making factory.

This included industrial amounts of bulking agent and the active ingredients used by the gang in their rip-off pills.

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Earlier in June, Ms Joseph told Wolverhampton Court that the gang, in 2018 and 2019 alone, had purchased over 23 tonnes of bulking agent. In addition, they purchased 220 kg of active ingredients. 

This was primarily a powerful drug called Alprazolam and at times an analogue alternative identified as Adinazolam. These drugs were purchased on the internet’s dark web and shipped from China.

Dark web was the online marketplace for the cheap and fake Xanax products that were sold and distributed all over the world. Masterminded from Bangkok

The gang, led by Mr Pitts and his partner Ms Harlow, additionally used the dark web to market their counterfeit Xanax product.

In brief, they shipped their pills worldwide, including to mainland Europe and the United States. The nerve centre of the operations was Thailand. The two UK nationals used dark web identities to negotiate sales. The identities used were ‘Milkman11new’ and ‘UKBK’.

However, their activities soon drew the attention of Pfizer, the manufacturer of Xanax.

The drug is in the top ten list of psych drugs. At this time, it is additionally widely licenced to other manufacturers.

Originally developed by Upjohn based on the drug alprazolam, it was marketed in 1981 as an anxiety management drug. This came following regulatory approval.

Xanax is a powerful drug for treating anxiety and panic attacks. However, it is not supplied through Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

Nonetheless, it is available through private medical channels with a doctor’s prescription.

Pfizer noticed that its product was being marketed on the notorious dark web. In turn, they ordered several packages. 

Pfizer undertook its own investigation and quickly discovered that the drug packages were being mailed from post office locations in the UK’s West Midlands

Consequently, they were able to discover that the packages were being mailed from the UK.

They were being sent from post offices located in the Midlands. At the same time, the marketing and orders were being taken by dark web operators based in Thailand.

In 2018, Pfizer tested the pills found on the dark web. Certainly, the tests concluded that the mixture was both counterfeit and potentially dangerous.

In short, the dosage was decided upon by the criminal gang at random. During the raid on the gang’s illicit shed factory in 2019, police found a note on quantities to be used in the mixture.

Following this, the huge pharmaceutical giant called in the UK police.

Afterwards, Regional Organised Crime Units in the Midlands went to work on the case. In short, it was not long before they were led to Mr Jordan Pitts.

2019 raids on factories including a pill mixing facility located in a shed in Tipton. Later, police swooped on a pill-pressing facility in Wolverhampton

Afterwards, the main body of arrests came in 2019 with raids on the manufacturing facilities. A month after the factory was located in Tipton, police raided another address in Wolverhampton. There, they found pill-pressing machines.

At length, the investigation subsequently discovered that these pressing machines had been purchased illegally from an Oxfordshire firm. The price was £30,000. Again, the transactions were the work of the dark web.

In court in June, Ms Joseph explained that the machines could produce up to 10,000 pills an hour.

After this week’s final prosecutions, the press was addressed by Detective Inspector Dave Hollies. He emphasised the scale and ambition of this criminal enterprise.

‘The scale of production of these counterfeit tablets ran in the millions. We found evidence the group had purchased over two tonnes of bulking agent which made up over 90% of the tablets,’ he explained. ‘The weight of active ingredients purchased was up to 220 kg. And the profit in Bitcoin also ran into millions.’

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