A luxury-loving woman secretly funded a lavish lifestyle of designer handbags, foreign holidays, buying a second house and living without touching any of her job salary by selling heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis.
Engineer and University of Hull graduate Danielle Stafford had a long-running “additional cash income stream” but she was caught only by pure chance when police spotted her speeding and her drugs empire began “unravelling before her very eyes”.
A phone constantly rang with 30 calls or pinged with up to 20 drug messages after she was arrested and police later found £26,917 cash stashed around her home and drugs with a street value of £33,600.
She had luxuries including nine watches and three expensive Louis Vuitton handbags and she was “awash with cash from her drug dealing business”, Hull Crown Court heard.
Stafford, 29, of Hallgate, Cottingham, admitted three offences of being concerned in supplying heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis and another of possessing cash as criminal property, on dates spanning October 2017 and May 2020.
She originally denied nine offences and a trial had started, with the prosecution opening its case, but she suddenly changed her pleas to guilty on four charges.
Nadim Bashir, prosecuting, said that police recovered text messages on Stafford’s phone beginning in October 2017 and involving her directing another woman to complete £10 or £20 cannabis deals in her absence. In one message, she said: “Make sure he pays.”
There were lists of people owing and owed money. “A group message was sent out by Danielle Stafford advertising a list of the types of cannabis she has to sell and their prices,” said Mr Bashir. Other group messages advertising sales were sent out. Drug dealing in cocaine was also shown in messages.
“This went completely unnoticed by the police until one day in May 2020 when her manner of driving was noticed by the police and was the start of this case unravelling before her very eyes,” said Mr Bashir.
Police in Hull at 7.30pm on May 12, 2020 spotted a silver Audi heading along Priory Road towards the city centre. It was speeding and hastily turned onto Hotham Road South, cutting the corner and cutting up a vehicle heading in the opposite direction.
“It was then driven at speed along Hotham Road South,” said Mr Bashir.
The car was followed and it was stopped in The Odd Bottle car park on Wold Road. Police could smell cannabis coming from the inside of the car and this aroused their suspicions.
She “immediately lied” and told police: “I’ll be honest, I’ve got this” and handed police a small silver wrap containing two buds of cannabis skunk.
Police found further bags of cannabis on her, including a food bag containing cannabis skunk and, from a pocket, another food bag containing cannabis skunk.
The car was searched and a carrier bag of cannabis skunk was found behind the driver’s seat. An empty tub containing drug residue was found. The total value of the cannabis was £1,308. An iPhone was found, with drug messages on it.
“From the moment of seizure of the drugs to the arrival in the police station custody suite, the mobile iPhone was constantly ringing and receiving messages from different people,” said Mr Bashir. “Some 30 phone calls were received and 10 to 20 messages.”
On the way to the police station, Stafford was seen “fidgeting” with her jogging bottoms and she was asked if she had any more drugs hidden.
‘It’s not mine’
She said: “Yes, but it’s not mine and I don’t know what it is. I shoved it down my joggers when you pulled me.” Stafford pulled out, from between her legs, a bag containing a large amount of small bags of cocaine. There were 56 wraps of crack cocaine, valued at £2,800.
Her three-bedroom end-terrace home in Cottingham was searched after police forced entry. A glass jar with plastic bags inside was found hidden behind a bag of coal bricks in a coal bunker in the rear garden. There were 270 wraps of crack cocaine, valued at £13,500, and 205 wraps of heroin, valued at £4,100, in the jar. Stafford denied knowledge of them.
In the living room, herbal cannabis, valued at £2,500, was found in an open, empty banana box on a table. She denied that it belonged to her. Two glass jars contained cannabis valued at £370. Police also found weighing scales, a large amount of cash and more food bags. She admitted that this belonged to her.
In Stafford’s bedroom, £430 cash and £25.36 in coins were found. Herbal cannabis and Ecstasy tablets were found. Bank notes totalling £670 were found as well as £2,350 and £1,480 cash.
Louis Vuitton handbags and huge cash bundles
More cash, totalling £7,580, was found in a safe but she denied that it was hers. Three Louis Vuitton handbags and nine watches were found. She admitted that these were hers.
In an upstairs box room, cash bundles of £9,100, £1,668, £550, £700, £1,110, £165, £190 and £91 were found. Examination of Stafford’s bank accounts revealed that “she clearly had an additional stream of cash income” apart from her monthly wages from working for Swift Group.
Holidays had been taken but there was no trace from her bank account of her buying foreign currency or making purchases overseas. “Again, evidence of an additional cash stream income,” said Mr Bashir.
Stafford had bought her Cottingham home in March 2016 for £124,999 in her sole name with a mortgage and a property in Hotham Road South in July 2018 without a mortgage for £68,500 in equal shares with her aunt. Stafford paid the “lion’s share” of £64,927 from cashing in premium bonds and she told police that she bought it to rent out.
“Even with rental or lodgings allowances, neither property was able to provide any significant source of income to justify the cash found in the house,” said Mr Bashir.
During police interview, Stafford claimed that a Liverpool lad had been staying with her on and off and that he had telephoned her to say that he had left something at her home. When she got home, there was a large amount of cannabis and, when he asked her to take it to him, she said that she did not feel comfortable doing so.
She claimed that he asked her just to bring a bag which was there and, in a panic, she grabbed a bag and was driving to meet him. Stafford denied that she or the lad were dealing drugs but later admitted that she would drive to Liverpool and bring him back to Hull.
She denied knowledge of any of the large amounts of cash found around her home, claiming that she looked after it for the lad, including keeping it for him in her own bedroom, apart from £2,350 which belonged to her.
“She said that the money in the safe had nothing to do with her and all the other cash belonged to the lad,” said Mr Bashir.
From cannabis to Class A
He told the court that Stafford was an “enthusiastic” cannabis dealer and progressed to becoming a Class A cocaine dealer.
“She had somehow managed to avoid her drug dealing activities coming to the attention of the police for a substantial period of time,” said Mr Bashir.
“The natural result of this was that she was able to accumulate a substantial amount of wealth, including purchasing an investment property, a house to rent. Cash found in her home address amounted to £26,917.
“The amount, type and value of drugs found at her home were substantial. It is, frankly, absurd to suggest that they were for her personal use or even belonged to some other unknown third party. The drugs alone were street valued at £33,600.
“Danielle Stafford has been associated with the supply of Class A and Class B drugs for a significant period of time. Her wages were paid into the bank account but were left to accrue because she never withdrew any cash for her day-to-day expenditure.
“She didn’t need to because she was awash with cash from her drug dealing business. She was able to leave her salary to accrue, which she used to invest in property.”
Sentence was adjourned for reports and Stafford, who has no previous convictions, was allowed conditional bail. She has previously spent lengthy periods in custody but was later allowed bail.