A FORMER Everton FC youth team and Marine FC player was jailed after admitting conspiracy to import more than £7m of cannabis.
Liam Maguire, 28, was the “right-hand man” in the plot, which saw millions of pounds worth of the drug brought to the North West from mainland Europe.
In total, 724.3kg of cannabis resin, worth between £3.6m and £7.3m at street value, and 216,000 euros were seized by police who stopped and searched vans being used to take the drugs and cash across borders.
But prosecutors said that was merely the tip of the iceberg, and that much more cash and drugs had reached their destination.
Maguire is the son of murdered nightclub bouncer Kevin Maguire, who was shot dead outside a Waterloo gym in 1998.
The dad-of-two, of Woodlands View, Thornton, showed great promise as youngster and played for Crosby Stuart FC. He went on to play for Everton's youth team and later signed for Marine FC, Southport FC and Prescot Cables FC before his semi-pro career was ended by injury.
But Liverpool Crown Court heard it was after meeting experienced criminal Sean Page that he became involved in drug smuggling.
Gerald Baxter, prosecuting, told the court the conspiracy began in January last year and continued, despite the arrests of several of its members, until last November.
He said: “The Crown's case is that this conspiracy involved the supply of large quantities of cannabis which were imported from Spain and were transported onwards to Ireland.
“The nature of the conspiracy was observed by police, who traced the defendants through transport records between Scotland and Ireland.
“What was seized was only part of what the conspiracy must have dealt in.”
The court heard drugs were bought at wholesale prices from mainland Europe, probably Spain.
They were then hidden in the panelling of small vans by couriers who went through the Channel Tunnel and was then further on to Ireland, where it was sold and the cash brought back.
Eight people were arrested across Merseyside and Belfast as part of the operation between Merseyside police, the Garda and the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI).
Maguire and his co-accused, Robert Labio, admitted conspiracy to supply Class B drugs.
Simon Driver, defending Maguire, said: “He is a young man who has overcome the disappointment of rejection by a professional football club and then the premature end of his semi-professional career as best he could by retraining as a plasterer.
“He invites me to express his remorse both to the court and also to his family, for letting them down when they need him greatly.”
Judge Nigel Gilmour, QC, told Maguire: “This was a large and successful conspiracy.
“You had been for some time a good friend of Sean Page, who is due to be sentenced on Friday.
“For reasons of greed, you agreed to get involved and act as his right-hand man.”
He said although Maguire rarely left the country he led a “managerial role”.
He jailed him for four years and 10 months.
Labio, 43, of Benedict Street, Bootle, admitted being a courier and was actually arrested twice, once with 134kg of cannabis in his van and then with 77,000 euros while he was remanded on bail.
Judge Gilmour jailed for 40 months.