Four students from the University of Manchester made over £800,000 whilst running their own international drugs distribution centre from a flat in the city across May 2011 to October 2013.
They were inspired by TV series Breaking Bad and used the dark web site Silk Road to operate the business, supplying ecstasy, ketamine, 2CB and LSD to customers across Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand.
While operating, the students didn’t skimp on luxury and travelled to the Bahamas, Amsterdam and Jamaica for holidays. One of the individuals even bought a flat and paid for his university tuition.
The group were busted by the FBI after the US intelligence agency shut down SIlk Road and seized its servers in Iceland.
Payment for the drugs was taken in Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency which soared in value by 1,000 per cent in 2017, meaning the total profit will likely be more valuable than the initial estimation. The digital fortune has not yet been traced by prosecutors.
Ringleader Basil Assaf, who set up the gang's Silk Road account and prepared and posted drugs, is quoted as saying "more than happy to do time for all of this. if btc continues going up whilst we’re inside there’s a chance we’ll come out with mills" in messages recovered by the investigation.
Assaf's lawyer said the offender viewed his criminal activity as "morally defensible" because recreational drugs were "ubiquitous" at university.
Computer science student James Roden and pharmacology student Jaikishen Patel were also involved in the drug operation. Geology student Elliot Hyams, a fellow schoolmate of Assaf's at Dr Challoner’s Grammar in Buckinghamshire, was initially involved, until Assaf "lost patience" with him and cut him out of the group. Marketing student Joshua Morgan had minor involvement, occasionally packaging and sending out drug parcels.
Prosecutor William Baker said: “Their common interest in taking controlled drugs quickly grew into a business selling drugs to other students in Manchester."
Hyams’ barrister James Pickup QC accused Assaf of exploiting his school friend, who he said had suffered bullying at school and was "naive" and "weak willed".
Basil Assaf, 26, James Roden, 25, Elliott Hyams, 26, Jaikishen Patel, 26, and Joshua Morgan, 28, are due to be sentenced this week at Manchester Crown Court.