Drug smugglers have to come up with creative ways to do their thing and stay under the radar of law enforcement. Members of a European drug smuggling gang was recently convicted for using fake ambulances with stash spots as their means of operation, but not before moving £1.6 billion (about $2.4 billion) in cocaine and heroin into the United Kingdom from the Netherlands.
According to the National Crime Agency (NCA), the ambulances, driven by individuals in paramedic uniforms, would pull into car parks or industrial. Sometimes they would be carrying decoy patients in the back. At the point of contact, members of as many as 20 UK gangs would pick up packages of “top quality” narcotics and take them back to their turfs to sell. Additionally, the outfit is believed to have brought in £420 million ($631.6 million) in through ferry ports on the English Channel.
The case was busted open when the NCA tracked one of the ambulances to a scrapyard in the UK. In stash spots (referred to as “hides”) behind the ambulance’s panels, found “neatly stacked, color coded” packages, including cocaine valued at £30 million (about $45.1 million), heroin worth £8 million (about $12 million) and 60,000 ecstasy tablets. The ambulance was traced back to Olof Schoon, 38, director of the Schoon Ambulance Company. He was described in court as a “central figure” in the operation. Company records showed that the fake ambulances made at least 45 trips in 14 months.
Leonardus “The Fat Man” Bijlsma, 55, was Schoon’s right hand man. Bijlsma acted as Schoon’s driver across the English Channel, because Schoon suffers from sleep apnea and would fall asleep while driving. He also located scrap cars to use as spares, and his DNA was found on a rivet gun used to fasten panels in the ambulances.
Bijlsma was convicted on charges of conspiring to smuggle class A drugs in Birmingham crown court. Schoon and Richard Engelsbel, 51, pleaded guilty. Dennis Vogelaar, 28, a fourth man, was acquitted by the court. The three convicted are are due for sentencing on December 7. Though they are viewed as key figures in the operation, the search continues in the UK and Netherlands for those at the top of the food chain.