The leaders of a drugs gang are facing up to 20 years in jail after police seized their biggest ever haul of high purity cocaine in Brighton and Hove.

A 17-strong network of drug smugglers, suppliers and dealers was caught in a conspiracy to flood the city's streets and clubs with drugs worth more than £5 million.

The drugs were bought in Brazil and Ghana, smuggled to England in the lining of suitcases and sold from a dingy semidetached house in Hove.

Ringleader Lorenzo Sirignano, 51, installed his minions in flats around the city and using them to launder money, sell drugs or act as "mules" on long-haul smuggling missions.

He was able to sell cocaine in Britain for up to ten times the price he paid for it overseas.

Police believe he earned at least £2 million from the scheme, using the cash to buy property and cars including a BMW, a Mercedes and a Jeep.

Some of his lackeys were not so lucky, ending up in jail overseas on smuggling charges. A police spokesman said: "Sirignano paid his couriers to take the risk for him. He didn't want to get his hands dirty."

When police raided the large house he rented in Burgess Hill they found a £44,000 cash "float" hidden under a kitchen unit.

He used a house and garages in Carlisle Road, Hove, as an office and warehouse for the drugs.

Live-in suppliers doled out cocaine by the kilogram to pushers in deals brokered by Sirignano.

Detectives from Sussex Police's Serious Organised Crime Unit rolled up the entire operation on February 19.

They found cocaine and amphetamines worth £577,000 in garages and vans at the Hove house. At the same time Sirignano was being arrested as he waited at Heathrow Airport for cocaine worth £1.3 million to arrive from Ghana.

With him was Karen Colvin, 48, who was involved in transferring money put up by Sirignano to buy cocaine in Ghana and Brazil.

Her brother-in-law Gary Waterman and 28-year-old Dean Swaysland were on the flight with their minder, Michael Mensa-Bonsu.

Adrian Hughes was enlisted to bring the drugs to Brighton by taxi.

All were arrested at Terminal Four of the airport by Sussex Police, working with Customs officials and the Metropolitan Police.

More than a dozen others who were part of the drugs ring were also arrested by detectives as part of Operation Nash.

All but three admitted their part in either conspiracy to smuggle cocaine or the supply or possession of the drugs.

Emmanuel Frimpong, 40, of Brunswick Square, Hove, was yesterday found guilty of laundering drugs money after a two-week trial at Hove Crown Court.

Bernard Gyimah of Cormorant Road, Forest Gate, east London, was cleared of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine.

He bought airline tickets for Swaysland and Gary Waterman to fly to Ghana with money provided by Sirignano but told the jury that he did not know the two men were going there to buy drugs.

Marlon Colvin, 20, of Tilgate Close, Brighton, was cleared of money-laundering.

All 17 of the convicted gang members are due to be sentenced in batches of six at Hove Crown Court next week.

Detective Inspector Jez Graves, from Sussex's Serious Organised Crime Unit, said: "This was a lengthy and complex investigation. Our job is to target those criminals who pose a risk of serious harm to the community.

"In this case we have dismantled an organised crime group which was responsible for bringing Class A drugs into our communities.

"There has recently been a substantial investment in the ability of Sussex Police to combat serious and organised crime.

"Our capability has now doubled and that is good news for Sussex residents."