Gym boss turned gangster after losing job in lockdown

A gym boss who lost his job in lockdown turned to crime and took on a ‘high profile role’ in an organized drug gang. Nabeel Issawi was working as a gym manager, but coronavirus restrictions meant they were closed for months at the height of the pandemic.

He was left ‘stranded’ without the ability to win and was ‘madly’ tempted to commit a serious crime, Manchester Crown Court have heard. A law enforcement hack of the secretive and highly encrypted EncroChat network revealed that 33-year-old Issawi had then become involved in trafficking huge amounts of drugs.

Issawi was linked to the supply of more than 60 kilos of cocaine, between April and June 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Prosecutors said Issawi used the EncroChat handle “Famous one is back” and was in contact with another user called “Greymoon”.

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The couple talked about buying pounds of cocaine and reselling it, prosecutor Duncan Wilcock said. But Issawi’s lawyer said the defendant earned “very little money” from his involvement in the drug trade.

“This defendant was arrested in a two-on-two, back-to-back in Preston,” Paul Hodgkinson said. “It’s not his house, he was renting.”

Issawi had previously been jailed for over six years in 2014 for conspiring to supply Class A drugs. He was involved in the gymnasium at Kirkham prison in Lancashire and after being released started working as a gym instructor, the court heard.

Mr Hodgkinson said Issawi got a job as a gymnasium manager and was enrolling in a sports science degree. “This defendant tried to get away with it,” he said. “Things were going well and the lockdown took place.

“It coincides around three weeks after the lockdown when the gyms were closed and he actually lost his job. He then found himself stranded, with no money, no job, no ability to earn money.

“He was foolishly persuaded by others to get involved in this operation. He was used in this scenario.” Issawi, of Poplar Avenue, Warton, Preston, was jailed for 13 years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.

“It is rare, extremely rare, for a defendant involved at such a high level to indicate a guilty plea for such an offence,” Judge Anthony Cross QC told Issawi.

“You were part of this operation as the leader of the organized crime group. It is clear that you had a high level of knowledge and a complete understanding of the organizational side.

“You were able to take orders and make decisions without needing approval and the evidence suggests you had an absolute understanding of the dynamics of the drug arena you were working in. You have an unfortunate record, including a conspiracy to provide in which you were imprisoned for 81 months.

“You tried to give it a shot but failed and fell back into your old ways. You need to be punished for this. The amount involved was over 60 kilos. It was a brave plea and it demonstrates your remorse and your desire… to put behind you this life of crime.”

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