A Cory Norford spent thousands on shoes for a girlfriend who didn't ask where he got the cash. Now she's been in the dock - and he's on the run

An ‘intelligent’ young woman who allowed her suspected drugs baron boyfriend to deposit money into her bank accounts has escaped jail.

Prosecutors say Cory Norford, 27, headed up a multi-million pound drugs gang that flooded Greater Manchester with cocaine, heroin and cannabis.

He enjoyed holidays to Jamaica, Mexico, Paris and Amsterdam with his girlfriend Lydia Bello - who never questioned where his money came from.

Norford also gave two pairs of Christian Louboutin shoes to Bello during their two-year relationship.

At the time he was studying at Salford University and told Bello he had used his student loan to pay for the designer heels.

He also spent thousands on home improvements - including £7,000 on gardening and landscaping the couple’s home in Eccles .

But when detectives closed in on the multi-million pound drugs racket that they believe was headed up by Norford, he fled the country, having been released under investigation.

He was last seen boarding a flight to Faro in November 2017.

He had been living an extraordinary double life.

Two months prior to his arrest Norford - who was also working two jobs and planning to invest in property - obtained a first class honours degree in accountancy.

Now, with Norford still wanted, and believed to be in Portugal, ex-girlfriend Bello, 28, has been in the dock at Manchester Crown Court , after a police investigation into the drugs conspiracy led detectives to her door, and her bank accounts.

Judge Richard Mansell QC said Bello 'must have suspected, if not known' that Norford 'was not legitimate'.

“Yes he was doing a degree, yes he had another job, but he could not have funded the lifestyle he was giving you", the judge said.

Officers found tens of thousands of pounds had been deposited into Bello’s accounts by Norford over the course of their relationship.

This came to light when Greater Manchester Police launched an investigation - codenamed Operation Friction - in 2017 to look at the activities of the organised crime group they believe Norford led.

Officers recovered just under 4kg of cocaine, 1.19 kg of heroin, 1.52kg of cannabis and nearly a quarter of a million pounds in cash.

At the height of the group’s operations they were turning over more than £20,000 a day, and, to date, 16 people have been convicted of offences relating to the drug gang’s activities.

Following Norford’s arrest and flight to Portugal, police found that large sums of cash, believed to be the proceeds of drug dealing, had been deposited into three of Bello's bank accounts between May 2015 and April 2018.

In total there were 84 deposits, totalling £45,610.

Deposits were usually made between 1pm and 2pm at branches close to where Bello was working

Invoices recovered from Norford and Bello's home at New Lane, in Eccles, showed that £7,000 had been spent on gardening and landscaping the property, using cash payments.

Norford had moved into the property around January 2017 - before Bello discovered that he was 'having a child' with someone else and kicked him out, the court heard.

Within five months she had forgiven him.

In that time Norford gave her two pairs of Christian Louboutin shoes which he claimed he purchased using his student loan.

In interviews last year, Bello told police that Norford gave her nothing towards household bills or board and she paid for everything.

They had holidayed in Jamaica and Mexico, she admitted to police, claiming their trips were discounted because Norford’s mother works at a travel agent.

Officers later found they had also enjoyed trips to Paris, Barcelona, Ibiza, Alicante, Malaga, and Amsterdam.

Bello insisted to investigators that she had never seen Norford with large amounts of money or drugs, was surprised at his arrest and believed he earned money through his cleaning business.

Questioned on how she paid for items such as Sonos electrical equipment and a YSL handbag, Bello told officers she had no knowledge of her partner's alleged criminal activity.

She accepted that deposits were paid into the account, but denied knowing or suspecting that they were the proceeds of crime.

A download from Bello's mobile phone showed WhatsApp messages between the defendant and others in which she discussed how a woman called Leonie had been storing large amounts of cash whilst he was in Canada.

In the message Ms. Bello describes how she was aware Leonie's house had been raided and someone had 'robbed 20 grand' of Mr. Norford's money.

Eventually Bello, 28, pleaded guilty to concealing criminal property.

Manchester Crown Court heard she has no has no previous convictions and was of good character.

Described by her defence barrister as a 'bright young lady', with references calling her 'helpful, reliable, thoughtful, and genuinely remorseful', the court heard Bello's relationship with Norford is 'over'.

She wept as Judge Richard Mansell QC spared her a custodial sentence, saying: “Given you are of such good character, and given Norford has now fled the country I’m fully satisfied you will not be here again."

He described her as 'a very intelligent, otherwise responsible young lady who left school with a lot of GCSEs.'

“It’s very tempting to get sucked into these situations", the judge said.

“You have learnt a harsh lesson here.”

The judge ordered Bello to serve a 12 month community order and carry out 150 hours unpaid work.

That’s a fairly lenient sentence,” he told Bello.

“I don’t think you will make the same mistake again. Do these hours as a punishment."

Bello now faces a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing in which prosecutors may attempt to seize some of her assets.

stella Posted on October 14, 2019 19:30

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