Over the last several years, thousands of criminals conducted their nefarious ventures through EncroChat, a France-based communications system that used encrypted phones and other security features to keep everyone's data top secret. But European law enforcement finally managed to hack the system in 2020, leading to the arrest of nearly 750 suspected criminals in the UK alone. The UK’s National Crime Agency called it “Operation Venetic,” and many investigations are still ongoing.
While wading through all the evidence of money laundering, arms dealing, and other organized crime endeavors on EncroChat, officials came upon a charming photo of a block of mature blue cheese still in its packaging. “Crafted by Long Clawson in Leicestershire,” the label read. “A delicately rich and creamy Stilton.” The EncroChat user who shared the snapshot was named “Toffeeforce” which, according to The Guardian, is a nod to Everton Football Club.
Toffeeforce’s other EncroChat activity had linked him to drug dealing, and police could narrow down the suspect pool since they now knew his favorite soccer team and his favorite Stilton. But they didn’t have to—because Toffeeforce’s ill-fated photo also featured most of his hand, fingerprints and palm print included.
Forensic analysts and a fingerprint specialist then teamed up to enhance the prints and match them to one Carl Stewart, a 39-year-old Liverpool resident (though not, as we know, a Liverpool Football Club fan). On May 21, Stewart pleaded guilty to charges of “transferring criminal property” and conspiracy to supply drugs, and was sentenced to 13.5 years in prison.
“Carl Stewart was involved in supplying large amounts of class A and B drugs, but was caught out by his love of Stilton cheese,” Detective Inspector Lee Wilkinson said in a Merseyside Police statement.
Stewart’s gaffe has no doubt taught other scofflaws a critical lesson of the crime trade: If you’re going to share a photo of cheese on the dark web, make sure the block is big enough to cover your whole hand.
[h/t The Guardian]