A 62-year-old man from West Ealing has been jailed for 28 years for his part in a gang who tried to smuggle 210 bags of MDMA into Australia with an estimated street value of £44m.
Stefan Baldauf of Midhurst Road along with five other men were sentenced at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court on 6 December 2022 for their involvement in a conspiracy to smuggle almost half a tonne of MDMA – also known as ecstasy – into Australia in the arm of an excavator machine. In total the six men will serve a combined 140 years behind bars.
Between June 2019 and June 2020, Baldauf along with another man Danny Brown, oversaw the operation to export the massive quantity of the Class A controlled drugs concealed in the lead-lined arm of an excavator to be sent to Australia.
The UK-based conspirators arranged the shipment and the sale at auction of the excavator to the ultimate purchasers of the drugs in Australia. The gang used encrypted Encrochat mobile phones to communicate with.
Unknown to the group, Australian custom authorities had discovered the drugs, removed them from the excavator and sent the machine on empty.
Struggling to find the MDMA, the men in Australia responded with a picture of a hollow arm and told Brown the machine was empty. Brown and his accomplices provided even more detailed explanations of where the drugs were concealed, but soon realised the bags of MDMA had been taken.
Specialist Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, Colette Moore, said: “This case involved a colossal quantity of MDMA, with an estimated street value of £44m, which posed a huge risk to the health and well-being of the Australian public. Organised criminals manufacture ecstasy and other synthetic drugs in dangerous illicit factories, so each individual tablet potentially poses a risk to life of those using it.
“Excellent work from the Australian authorities identified the drug concealment in the mechanical arm of an excavator arm and prevented its onward distribution. Collaborative international working with our Australian partners has resulted in the successful prosecution of the men who had exported these drugs to the Antipodes.”
The prosecution used the messages exchanged to demonstrate how many defendants were aware MDMA had been concealed in the excavator.
Demonstrating the use of the EncroChat phones was crucial to proving the case against Brown and Baldauf. The prosecution were able to link Brown to his Encrochat phone through a picture of his French Bulldog, ‘Bob’, which he sent to one of the other gang members. The dog had the same number on his collar that he had been sending messages on.
Baldauf sent a photo of his location which accidentally captured his own reflection on his way to meet Brown which was used to prove he had control of the device.
In June 2020, Brown and Baldauf were arrested by National Crime Agency (NCA) officers, and further investigation led to the remaining defendants’ arrests in the following months.
Chris Hill, NCA operations manager, said: “These men thought they were safe on EncroChat but my officers did a superb and painstaking job of building the evidence against them through a mixture of traditional and modern detective skills. Brown and Baldauf’s accidental selfies and the photo of Bob the dog were the cherry on the cake in proving who was operating those handles.”
Mr Hill added: “But the OCG went to enormous lengths, even rigging an auction, in a bid to transfer the drugs to Australian conspirators. The NCA works with partners at home and abroad to protect the public from the dangers of Class A drugs which wreak so much misery on communities in the UK.”
The full list of six men and their sentences
Stefan Baldauf, 62, was sentenced to 28 years imprisonment
Danny Brown, 55, was sentenced to 26 years imprisonment
Philip Lawson, 61, was sentenced to 23 years imprisonment
Tony Borg, 45, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment
Peter Murray, 59, was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment
Leon Reilly, 50, was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment