IT looked like the window of any other student letting agency.
But the houses and flats for rent in businessman Jeremy Southgate’s firm were fake images and pictures cut from magazines.
One of Britain’s most brazen criminals, Southgate was so cocky that he got government grants to insulate houses where foreign ‘gardeners’ looked after his cannabis farms.
He was so confident he’d never be caught that he stole electricity from dozens of neighbours – and once sent in a team to dig up a road to bypass a meter.
Cops in Hull who caught up with Southgate – whose astonishing double life is more reminiscent of a character from the drug-fuelled TV drama Breaking Bad – labelled him “arrogant and greedy”.
DC Karen Smith, who arrested him, said: “He was a very wealthy man who owned 72 properties outright, a boat and assets including a nursing home.
“None of this was done for need, but for greed.
“I’ve never met anyone quite like Southgate. In interviews he was evasive, arrogant and wouldn’t answer questions, often going off on tangents.
“This was a major drugs operation and the cannabis would have been disseminated into kilos and distributed nationally.”
Stashed thousands on boat
The story of Southgate’s illicit empire comes as new figures laid bare the drug crisis gripping the nation.
A record 69 tons of cannabis were seized last year – equivalent to a street value of £2billion.
Illustrating the sheer amount of money drug lords can turn over, cops found more than £50,000 in cash on a £140,000 boat Southgate owned called Billy Blue on Hull’s marina.
They also found £324,000 in notes hidden under a bed in the house where his girlfriend lived – and discovered Southgate had just banked £125,000.
He even owned a dilapidated hotel called The Pines in the city where police found £307,000 worth of cannabis growing in several rooms.
Twelve Albanians caught growing, distributing and selling Southgate’s cannabis have since been deported – but only after vain attempts to remain in the UK.
They claimed to be living in fear after being trafficked into the UK but police revealed they had been free to visit prostitutes, while one went on holiday to Milan.
DC Smith, of Humberside Police, said: “They told me they had willingly come into the UK, smuggled into the country in trucks.
“They then tried to claim they were victims of slavery but I was able to prove they had voluntarily made their way into Britain and were here willingly.
“They were drinking Hennessy on Hull marina, using the services of prostitutes, driving cars and going about their business. One even took a holiday to Milan so they were hardly locked into modern day slavery.
“We don’t want to discourage any genuine victims from reporting, but in this case these men were trying to manipulate the system.”
Detectives launched Operation Swale following a 2021 drugs bust in a house in Hull where a receipt for extension leads, galvanised steel, electrical tape and plug sockets was found – items used to set up cannabis farms.
When officers checked CCTV at the hardware store where the goods were bought, they discovered Albanian cousins Dardan Mrishaj and Evris Mirshaj travelling in and out of Hull from their homes in Peterborough.
Cops started trailing the pair who were meeting with Southgate and other associates, sitting outside coffee shops for ‘daily briefings’ after the first Covid lockdown in the summer of 2021.
Estate agents fraud
It wasn’t long before detectives realised Southgate’s letting agency, called Anderson Estates, was a total fraud. It was being run by another criminal called Florjan Kasaj, 41, who would occasionally open it.
He told police he was never paid by Southgate and was helping people with universal credit and asylum claims.
But Kasaj was really managing Southgate’s properties and instructing the cousins to build cannabis farms.
The now-deported team of illegal Albanians were hired to look after the plants, which made the gang up to £2.4million each crop.
But the cash wasn’t enough for Southgate, who applied for government grants to insulate his run-down properties and received £100,000 in fraudulent Covid loans to run his property business, called Amazing Lets, and a care home he owned in East Riding.
It emerged in court that he deliberately bought houses with poor energy ratings to apply for grants.
Cannabis seizures hit record high
BORDER cops seized 69 tonnes of marijuana last year – the highest amount ever.
The extent of Britain’s drug epidemic was laid bare after the Home Office also revealed that 3.3 tonnes of cocaine was blocked from coming into the UK.
The amount of weed seized by police and Border force officers doubled year-on-year from 35 tonnes in 2022.
Around a third of people in England and Wales aged between 16 and 59 have admitted to using cannabis at least one point in their lives, according to Statistica.
Authorities discovered 92 tonnes of illegal drugs in total – the largest amount for 18 years.
It’s a crime to possess, grow, distribute or sell cannabis and being caught comes with a maximum sentence of five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
Being convicted of producing and supplying the Class B drug carries a jail term of up to 14 years.
Police can issue a warning or on-the-spot fine if you’re caught with small amounts – generally less than one ounce.
Many forces take a relaxed view to personal use but prosecution rates vary across the country. Durham Police say they will no longer target recreational users while Cornwall and Devon have a prosecution rate of 15 per cent.
Cannabis products said to aid sleep or relaxation can be bought over the counter but they do not contain the part of the plant that makes you high, THC.
Doctors can prescribe medical cannabis, with higher amounts of cannabidiol for sufferers of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and cancer patients sick with chemotherapy.
Police searched 25 of Southgate’s property and found cannabis in 19.
They also discovered fake ID papers for unemployed tenants who never existed so the local authority would foot the bill for council tax.
Incredibly, he sent a team of ‘workmen’ to one property to drill into the road outside and bypass the electricity supply, before laying the tarmac back down.
Southgate trained as a solicitor in 1994 but found himself on the other side of the legal fence when was convicted at Hull Crown Court earlier this month.
He was found guilty of two counts to produce Class B drugs, money laundering and two counts of fraud by false representation.
Evris Mrishaj, 25, of Peterborough, and cousin Dardan Mrishaf, 37, of Hull, and Florjan Kasaj, 41, also of Hull, were convicted of conspiracy to produce class B drugs.
All four will be sentenced in February.
Southgate, originally from Brighton, has never revealed his real home address – even in court.
DC Smith said he engaged in “Albanian gang tactics” to hide his tracks, failing to register his modest 2009 plate Astra.
She said: “We knew he owned a lot of properties, but it took hard work to connect them to him through police records and tenuous links.
“He did everything he could to evade the law at every step of the way. The case didn’t feature a lot of text messages you’d usually find in this sort of conspiracy because he had daily briefings outside coffee houses.”
She revealed that even after his arrest in December 2022, the kingpin bought another house and tried to set up a new cannabis farm before cops shut him down.
Now the man who once set up a fake estate agents will soon find himself a tenant – of a prison cell.