Pianos as “Drug Mules”

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A man from Greater Manchester (UK) has recently been convicted of smuggling cocaine worth £4.2m ($5.25m) into the United Kingdom. The drugs were hidden in an upright acoustic piano.

Francesco Role, ostensibly a furniture mover, was driving a van full of household goods back from Normandy, northern France. The date was November 6, 2023. A bed, chairs, a cupboard, an assortment of cardboard boxes, and a modest upright piano, carefully concealed under a blanket, filled the van.

Role caught the Dieppe to Newhaven ferry, however on arriving in England was stopped by UK Border Force officials. The van was searched and inspectors became suspicious when they tried lifting the piano – it was rather too heavy, and showed signs of tampering.

two images showing the cocaine in the back of the piano

The back of the piano was removed revealing 89 wrapped blocks of high purity cocaine. Role was immediately arrested and an investigation was launched by Greater Manchester Police’s Serious Organised Crime Group.

Role initially claimed to be a legitimate businessman, but when confronted with all the evidence pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and the “fraudulent evasion of the provision of the importation of Class A drugs”.

On April 12th, 2024, Francesco Role (aged 45) was jailed for 13 years and 6 months.

Photo of the drugs laid out in packs
The wrapped cocaine blocks. Photo: GMP

We know that criminals are adapting their methods to evade law enforcement, which is why it is imperative that we continue to use all resources available to evolve with them and stay one step ahead.

Detective Inspector James Coles from GMP Serious Organised Crime Group

Som notable occasions a piano has been involved in drug smuggling:

2013, Manukau, New Zealand: Two students convicted of importing Class B drugs (Contac NT) worth NZ$1.4m in toy pianos.
2013, London, UK: Two drug dealers convicted of plotting to use fake pianos to smuggle amphetamines, cocaine and other drugs from Holland to the UK.
2011, Harringay, UK: 148kg of cannabis worth £2m found inside a crated piano imported from South Africa.
2007, Cartagena, Columbia: Authorities find 558 pounds of cocaine worth $5m in a piano destined for Panama.
2006, San Francisco, USA: Six people charged when 40kg of MDMA was found in a piano shipped from Germany to SF International Airport.

Interestingly, Urban Dictionary, a website known for its informal user-generated content, lists “grand piano” as slang for 88kg of any drug! (“You ship off k’s and we ship grand pianos” from the song “Da Rockwilder” by American hip hop duo Method Man & Redman).

Hidden Treasures

A piano is a great medium for the smuggler. It is an innocent-looking object found in many households and offers lots of space for hiding things. However, various cases, such as those described above have made authorities aware.

As well as the rather nefarious role of the piano as a “drug mule”, pianos have often been used as a place to hide things. Cash or other valuable items are sometimes found tucked away inside an instrument. Even firearms have been found.

Image showing the rare Babe Ruth baseball card

In 2019 a rare 1916 baseball card (worth $130,000) was found inside an old piano (link) in Maryland, US. And in 2017 a hoard of 913 gold coins (worth $650,000) was discovered in a piano (link) in Shropshire, England.

So if you’ve got an old piano you’ve inherited, or purchased second-hand, perhaps go and take a very close look inside!


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