The motto of the Chipping Sodbury cycle club is ‘Bike Riding, Cake Eating & A Good Time’. The words are emblazoned on the group’s home page next to photographs of cheerful members zipping through the Cotswolds and enjoying coffee and pastries together in their matching blue vests.
One of the friendly faces belongs to Matthew Grimm. The local businessman, who describes his occupation as retailer on Company House records, lives on the outskirts of the picturesque market town of Chipping Sodbury in Gloucestershire (population: 5,000-plus).
There couldn’t be a more unlikely setting for the following events or a more unlikely central character than the Lycra-wearing father of two.
Until now, Matthew Grimm’s chief claim to ‘fame’ is probably recording a personal best of ten miles in 23 minutes and 50 seconds in local time trials in July 2022, an achievement proudly listed on his profile on the cycle club’s website. All that changed one day a few weeks before last Christmas.
For ‘fame’, however, read notoriety.
At around 8am, 40 police officers dressed in black, many of them armed, descended on the quiet cul-de-sac where 49-year-old Grimm lives in a large, impressive, detached house.
‘They sealed off the main road and moved in, some in vehicles, some on foot,’ said one local who watched, aghast, as it all unfolded.
‘I could hear them yelling outside [Grimm’s] front door: ‘We are the National Crime Agency. Open the door.’ There was no response so they smashed the front door in. It only took a second, then dozens of officers went into the house. Two officers with massive machine guns stayed either side of the door outside.
‘They parked a couple of big vans in the driveway and spent two days loading it up with whatever they could find inside.’
Matthew Grimm turned up on his bike in full Lycra to answer bail at the police station in Chipping Sodbury last month
At around 8am, 40 police officers dressed in black, many of them armed, descended on the quiet cul-de-sac where 49-year-old Grimm (pictured) lives in a large, impressive, detached house
Grimm lives on the outskirts of the picturesque market town of Chipping Sodbury in Gloucestershire (pictured)
Was it a case of mistaken identity, perhaps? Could Matthew Grimm, stalwart of the Chipping Sodbury cycling fraternity, really have been the target?
Indeed he was.
Matthew Grimm was in retailing, but not just on the High Street, it is alleged.
The National Crime Agency (NCA), which leads the fight against serious and organised crime and is known as Britain’s FBI, carried out the raid on behalf of the U.S., which has begun proceedings to extradite Grimm on charges of importing controlled drugs into the country and laundering the profits, $6.5 million (more than £5 million) in cryptocurrencies, assets which have now been frozen.
It was the extent of Grimm’s alleged earnings that brought him to the attention of the U.S. authorities. He is the subject of what is known as an Executive Order, signed by President Joe Biden two years ago, granting the White House powers to combat the synthetic drugs epidemic without recourse to Congress.
Grimm denies any wrongdoing but, whatever the truth, he certainly seems to lead an enviable lifestyle.
Parked on his driveway this week was a Tesla car and a top-of-the-range Audi (both vehicles are worth in the region of up to £60,000 each). On Facebook, Grimm is pictured frequently holidaying on the sun-kissed white sands of the Maldives and Corfu with a female companion.
He was labelled the ‘El Chapo of the Cotswolds’ by a Sunday newspaper in the wake of the ‘revelations’. Obviously, he bears no resemblance to Mexican cartel boss Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman who is serving life. Nevertheless, the charges he is facing — five counts of trafficking and one of money-laundering — carry sentences of up to 120 years in prison.
One of the designer drugs the Gloucestershire businessman is accused of selling in the U.S. is eutylone, which mimics the euphoric effects of MDMA (ecstasy) and cocaine. The downside is that users can also suffer increased heart rate and blood pressure, anxiety and paranoia.
In 2020 and 2021, eutylone — street name ‘molly’ — was the most widespread synthetic stimulant found in the U.S. In 2020 alone, there were 343 eutylone-related deaths and 182 (53 per cent) were in Florida, which also accounted for more than two-thirds of eutylone arrests. Florida is also the state where the indictment against Matthew Grimm was filed.
Who could have imagined the trail would eventually end 4,000 miles away back in Chipping Sodbury with armed police arriving at his front door?
The last time Chipping Sodbury was in the headlines was in May last year when eight squad cars, blue lights flashing, were scrambled to round up a herd of cows causing havoc in the town centre.
Grimm himself is from a thoroughly respectable background.
His father is a retired heating engineer; his sister, a vet. He also has two young children who live with his ex-partner. Over the past decade, he has set up a string of companies, including one incorporated to sell handbags and another to sell ornaments wholesale.
Around 2012, he opened a shop in Bristol, now called Good Timez Reloaded, where you can buy gothic clothing, model skulls, crystals and a range of silver jewellery (decorated with more crystals). Also on sale are cannabis accessories — but not cannabis itself — such as bongs, pipes and rolling paper.
He was labelled the ‘El Chapo of the Cotswolds’ by a Sunday newspaper in the wake of the ‘revelations’
Grimm, it is claimed, received payment in Bitcoins, the world’s first and largest digital currency
It is the kind of establishment that was once called a ‘head shop’, which sold so-called ‘legal highs’ (typically, a few molecules were changed in the lab to avoid them being classed as illegal) that first rose to prominence in 2009.
They remained legal until 2016 when the Psychoactive Substances Act placed a blanket ban on their production and trade after scores of fatalities associated with the craze, including many ordinary middle-class children, who would gather in car parks, bus depots and underpasses to take ‘legal highs’.
While the Act broadly achieved its objective, it also drove some of the trade underground and on to the internet, according to David Raynes, a former HM Customs investigation officer and a member of the International Task Force on Strategic Drug Policy.
Grimm then went on to found an online portal called Smokeys Chem Site, now at the centre of the U.S. prosecution.
‘We are proud to announce the release of a new range of high-quality products as we aim to help the scientific community in the research development process,’ he declared in a PR release for the website in 2016. Many such sites contain riders like this and the label ‘not for human consumption’.
But in June this year, a five-star review of the website read: ‘I gotta say, Smokeys Chem Site is the real deal when it comes to chems. The quality is top-notch, no doubt about it. And let me tell ya, their delivery game is on point too.
‘I’m on the west coast of the U.S. and, usually, my package arrives within two to three weeks. Not too shabby, right?’
Either way, according to the U.S. indictment, synthetic drugs such as the previously mentioned eutylone were banned in the U.S. when they were allegedly sold through Smokeys Chem Site between February 6, 2020, and November 1, 2021.
Originally, the overwhelming majority of such ‘products’ were manufactured in China. They have now been outlawed in China too so production has reportedly switched to India.
Eutylone was not the only banned substance allegedly available on Smokeys Chem Site. A second drug sold to the American market by Grimm, prosecutors claim, was metahedrone dubbed the ‘party drug of the moment’ by The Face magazine after it surfaced in clubs in London and Berlin recently and, to quote the author of the article, ‘feels like halfway between ecstasy and coke but lasts a lot longer’.
Matthew Grimm had an alleged accomplice in the U.S. who cuts an equally unlikely figure to be cast in such a role. She is Carrie-Ann Tooley, in her early 50s, a mother of two from Maine, whose association with Grimm is said to have begun in 2015.
Her Facebook page, where she can be seen smiling with her children and her husband and posing in fancy dress for Halloween, gives no indication of the serious crimes she is accused of committing.
There is only one possible clue about why she might have become involved with Grimm as the authorities claim. ‘Working remotely online I have become skilled in crypto/digital asset trading,’ she reveals in one post.
Grimm, it is claimed, received payment in Bitcoins, the world’s first and largest digital currency.
Back in 2010, shortly after the currency was launched, a single Bitcoin was worth just seven pence. Today, the value has soared to an astonishing £23,000. In one of Grimm’s virtual ‘wallets’, investigators say they found 20 Bitcoins, now worth around £457,000. The two largest wallets are said to be worth £1.1 million and £1.6 million. In all, The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), part of the U.S. Treasury department, netted more than £5 million, it is alleged.
Outside the Chipping Sodbury cycle club, Grimm appears to mix rarely with locals
Criminals use cryptocurrencies instead of the formal banking system to move large sums of money because virtual assets are harder to detect by law enforcement.
Outside the Chipping Sodbury cycle club, Grimm appears to mix rarely with locals.
At the nearest pub, 150 yards from his home, staff can’t recall ever seeing him. A neighbour said he was aware of the moves to have him extradited but declined to comment.
Grimm turned up on his bike in full Lycra to answer bail at the police station in Chipping Sodbury last month.
‘Let them bring it on,’ he told reporters bullishly as he arrived. ‘These are just allegations, so I don’t want to say anything.’
In court papers, his lawyer said his client denies any wrongdoing and is worried that the extradition would distance him from his two children, aged nine and 12, who live with their mother.
But district judge Nina Templa has sent the case to Home Secretary Suella Braverman – typically a formality in extradition procedures. Explaining her decision, she wrote: [Grimm] faces extremely serious charges in the U.S. for drug importation . . . I have to bear in mind the strong public interest that the UK upholds its international treaty obligations and that . . . the UK should not be seen as a safe haven.’
A final decision on Matthew Grimm’s future is due next month.
Additional reporting: Tim Stewart and Nic North