A British man turned to international drug dealing in a bid to pay off crippling debts amassed by pay-day loan companies Wonga and QuickQuid, a court has heard.
Dane Henley, 30, from Wirral avoided jail after telling a judge on Friday that he was in a "serious financial mess" after falling behind on mortgage repayments – forcing him to take out a number of short-term, high-interest loans.
Henley turned to crime after taking out £10,000 loan with a loan shark, who coerced Henley into handling thousands of pounds worth of amphetamine-based drug mephedrone – known as 'Mcat' – which Henley believed were legal highs, he said.
The painter-decorator says the loan shark "exploited" knowledge of his massive debts and told Henley he would get "just a slap on the wrist" if he was caught.
Henley was caught out by police after trying to post thousands of pounds of the drugs hidden in DVD cases from a Staples store in Birkenhead.
He posted 14 packs of Mcat, worth up to £5,000 each inside the DVD cases, but a Staples employee became suspicious when Henley "went over the top" in chatting to the man about his fake DVD business and reported the packages.
Judge Brian Lewis dismissed Henley's defence that he was coerced into the drug deal as "simply not credible" and said there was no "sinister figure of the loan shark in the background".
When officers raided Henley's home in Wallasey they found around £24,000 worth of Mcat, which has been known to cause brain damage, fits and fatal heart problems.
Henley pleaded guilty to attempting to supply the Class B drug and was given a 15-month suspended sentence. The judge said he was "fortunate" to not be going to prison.
Sentencing, Judge Lewis said: "You got yourself into a serious financial mess. I think in your situation it's better to deal with your criminality in the community, rather than burden the taxpayer."
Henley amassed a staggering amount of debt after buying his mother's house in 2008 after she moved to Spain – with mortgage repayments leaving him with unpaid store cards, credit cards, household bills and payday loan debt. He also admitted to falling behind on his council tax payments, forcing him to apply for loans.
Kate Driver, defending Henley, said Wonga's high interest rates of 5,853% APR were "trouble". She said: "We have seen in recent years some people going to places like Wonga and getting in a lot of trouble. Mr Henley didn't feel like he had much choice at the time."
Chris Taylor, prosecuting, said Henley was "making up his story as he went along" and launched the drug enterprise himself.
Judge Lewis added: "By 2010 with the recession biting, work was hard to come by. The defendant was getting into debt and by 2013 he was about £3.5k in arrears on his mortgage. He had taken out payday loans. But I don't accept for a moment that he thought they were legal highs."
Henley will have to complete 180 hours of unpaid work in addition to a curfew.