THE youngest member of a drugs gang who peddled heroin and crack cocaine on the streets of Southampton has been jailed.
Anton Asutaitis was just 17 years old when he was “groomed” by his friend’s older brother and quickly became involved with the drugs ring who were “fuelling for domination” in the city.
Known as the ‘Marcus’ network, eight others were involved in what a judge described as a “reasonably sophisticated” operation in which Class A drugs were brought from London and dealt on the city streets.
But the gang were busted by police following a lengthy undercover operation which was sparked when key player Aaron Conway was shot in the foot by a rival group brandishing an automatic machine gun, during the early hours of April 9, 2011.
When nobody would give evidence about the shooting, in which seven shots were fired at a property in Northumberland Road, detectives were able to get on their trail having recovered a mobile phone central to the network.
Known as the “dirty” phone, it contained the numbers of key people but was also used by people placing orders.
Concerned with the escalating drugs-related violence in the city, which later led to the launch of Operation Fortress – a targeted crackdown on drug related violence – they tracked the movements of the group as drugs were brought to a number of houses in Southampton from London.
Officers also went undercover and managed to buy heroin and crack cocaine on a variety of occasions at locations across Southampton.
In August last year seven members were jailed for a total of 29 years for their part in the conspiracy while an eighth member, said to be on the very edge of the crime, was given a chance to turn his life around and get off drugs.
Now the final member of the gang has been sent to prison for his part, despite a judge having some sympathy for the fact he was lured into the activity.
Southampton Crown Court heard how, in his defence, Asutaitis, who is now 19, had come from a troubled background and spent most of his childhood in care.
Jailing Asutaitis for 32 months, Judge Gary Burrell told him he was aware of the scale of the operation even if he had been “groomed into the role by Conway” who used him to do his drugs bidding and running in return for food and clothing.