Gun dealer exposed himself after police spotted what was missing in selfie

Michael Riccio
Michael Riccio -Credit:National Crime Agency

A dealer who used EncroChat to discuss the sales of drugs and guns was ensnared after he sent a selfie of himself showing he had lost a tooth.

Michael Riccio, 37 and of Ambleside Road in Allerton, has been on trial at Liverpool Crown Court in connection with his usage of the handle "LeadFern" on the encrypted communications platform. Messages exchanged via the network were said to have shown his efforts to acquire a shotgun "to give someone a leggy" while amassing £2.5million in old £20 notes as he trafficked weapons and drugs.

Riccio admitted having used the account in order to facilitate the supply of heroin and cocaine, but denied using it to deal in guns. He instead said that other criminals who had access to his device had been responsible for conversations involving firearms. But he was convicted of three counts of transferring a prohibited weapon and one of possession of a prohibited weapon by a majority jury of 11 to one earlier this week.

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The verdict was delivered after 14 hours and 25 minutes of deliberations. Jurors also unanimously found him guilty of money laundering. However, they were unable to reach verdicts on two further firearms charges. The prosecution will not seek a retrial on these counts, and Riccio was remanded into custody ahead of his scheduled sentencing on July 5. He reacted by shaking his head and putting his face in his hands.

The jury heard Riccio "operated a business buying and selling drugs and guns, sometimes for tens and thousands of pounds at a time". His messages concerned "Glocks, shottys, shotguns and causing harm with those firearms", including "needing a shotgun to give someone a leggy".

He 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 "legging someone" because law enforcement could potentially use clues from the crime scene to trace the gun and shooter.

The jury heard that in an EncroChat conversation on April 18 2020, Riccio 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 he told the contact he is "doing some bots" which means selling heroin.

Riccio 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 – offers 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 National Crime Agency (NCA) leads the UK law enforcement response under Operation Venetic. Riccio was arrested by NCA 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.

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."

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