Many men have scaled the perilous ranks of the underworld, soaring to the heights of criminality, only to be laid low by their own personal failings: hubris, ambition, indulgence. Also the love of cheese, apparently.
Police recently identified and arrested a prolific British drug dealer using only an encrypted text message he had sent that included a picture of him holding one of his favourite things: a fat, creamy block of Stilton cheese. The apparently delicious crumbly British spread is considered a delicacy in England — and you can see why: it looks really good.
Like many other criminals, Liverpool resident Carl Stewart used the encrypted communications platform EncroChat to supply underworld networks with large shipments of narcotics. Under the handle “Toffeeforce,” Stewart pedaled heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and ketamine — apparently bringing in large profits.
However, a far-reaching law enforcement action by the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA), dubbed “Operation Venetic,” helped put Stewart and dozens of other criminals behind bars.
After infiltrating the EncroChat network last summer, police used a photo of Stewart’s hand holding his beloved Stilton to visually analyse his palm and fingerprints, police said Friday. This analysis led to his identification and subsequent conviction.
“Carl Stewart was involved in supplying large amounts of class A and B drugs, but was caught out by his love of Stilton cheese, after sharing a picture of a block of it in his hand through EncroChat,” said Detective Inspector Lee Wilkinson, of Merseyside Police. “His palm and fingerprints were analysed from this picture and it was established they belonged to Stewart.”
The cheese-lover subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiring to supply heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and ketamine as well as transferring criminal property was sentenced to just over 13 years in prison, police said.
Stewart’s arrest is part of a massive, ongoing law enforcement operation targeting the users of EncroChat. The platform, now defunct, previously gave cover to thousands of alleged criminals, who thought that they could use the app for secure messaging about their illicit operations. However, law enforcement agencies managed to crack into the platform — beginning at least last summer. It’s not totally clear how many people have been charged as a result of “Venetic” but Computer Weekly reports that at least 1,550 arrests have been made in the U.K. and as many as 450 are currently contesting their prosecution.
“Around 60,000 users of EncroChat have been identified worldwide, with about 10,000 of them in the UK – all involved in coordinating and planning the supply and distribution of drugs and weapons, money laundering and other criminal activity,” Merseyside police said Friday. The company’s CEO, Vincent Ramos, was recently sentenced to nine years in prison in the U.S. after he admitted to undercover authorities that he had created the product to assist drug traffickers.