Liverpool drug dealer wanted to use shotgun to blast victims’ legs

A Liverpool drug dealer planned to blast the legs of three people with a shotgun in retribution attacks.

Michael Riccio, 37, used the encrypted communications platform EncroChat to discuss buying and selling firearms with criminal contacts.

Riccio, who used the handle ‘Leadfern’ on the platform, told one contact: “Am trying to get 3 shottis if can help, going leg 3ppl.”

Riccio added he had a Glock but it would be a “waste” to use it for “legging someone” because law enforcement could potentially use clues from the crime scene to trace the gun and shooter.

At Liverpool Crown Court on Tuesday, 7 May, Riccio was convicted of a range of firearms charges.

He had already admitted using the Leadfern handle to supply heroin and cocaine in 2020 but claimed other members of his organised crime group had used the handset to trade firearms.

The jury heard that in an EncroChat conversation on 18 April 2020, Leadfern told a contact he had sold a ‘sprayer’ – an automatic firearm – and asked the contact to chase the £3,000 he is owed for the gun.

Just 20 seconds later Leadfern told the contact he is “doing some bots” which means selling heroin.

Riccio, of Allerton, also had EncroChat conversations with other contacts where he talked of buying and selling semi-automatic pistols such as Glocks and a CZ.

In one conversation, Leadfern spoke of wanting to buy back “one or two” firearms he had sold to a contact.

But the contact said “no mate” and that he had sold them “all over the place” and “could do load more if u ever get again”.

At the end of this conversation, Leadfern – having spoken about guns – offered to let the contact know when he gets some cocaine.

Riccio used the Leadfern handle to send a selfie showing he had lost a tooth.

He also sent messages containing his mother’s address and an image of his feet sticking out of his bed. When he was arrested at home, the bedroom in the photo matched his own. He also received messages from contacts marking the anniversary of his father’s death.

And he told one EncroChat user he had amassed £2.5m in old £20 notes and wanted to change them for new ones. EncroChat was taken down in 2020 and the NCA leads the UK law enforcement response under Operation Venetic.

Riccio was arrested by National Crime Agency officers on 30 June 2020 on suspicion of committing drugs offences.

He was released under investigation and charged after being arrested again on 24 October 2023 by Merseyside Police specialist firearms officers.

He will return to court to be sentenced on 5 July.

Charles Lee, NCA acting branch manager, said, “Riccio is an extremely dangerous offender who the evidence showed was actively plotting to shoot three people.

“The Operation Venetic data has been instrumental in bringing to justice a very large number of criminals who have endangered our communities by trading firearms and class A drugs.

“The NCA works closely with partners such as Merseyside Police and international law enforcement to combat those threats to the UK.”

Operation Venetic has been the UK’s deepest ever penetration of organised crime groups.

So far, more than 1,600 offenders have been convicted and there are more suspects in the legal and judicial systems.

In total, more than 3,300 arrests have been made and more than 2,000 suspects charged in the UK.

Over 10,700 years of sentences have been given to offenders.

Drugs seizures include nearly six-and-a-half tonnes of cocaine, more than three tonnes of heroin and over twenty tonnes of cannabis.

One-hundred-and-seventy-three firearms have been taken off UK streets, along with almost 3,500 rounds of ammunition and more than £84m has been seized from organised crime groups. Over 200 threats to life were averted.

These figures represent the collective efforts of the NCA, UK police forces, Regional Organised Crime Units, Border Force, HM Revenue and Customs and crucially the Crown Prosecution Service.

Image: Michael Riccio/NCA

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