Two loyalists caught trying to blackmail an undercover policeman have been jailed for eight years each at Belfast Crown Court.
Robert Lowey, 29, and David Alexander Bennett, 31, from Fraser Pass, Belfast, admitted blackmailing an officer while claiming to be from the loyalist UVF.
They were arrested last August after the officer, posing as a building contractor, handed over £23,000.
Belfast Crown Court was told on Tuesday that the pair demanded £50,000 a year.
The blackmail happened between 9 and 18 August 2005. Lowey and Bennett demanded the money to cover three sites, the court was told.
Defence lawyers said the two men got involved in an effort to solve their financial problems, brought about by their drug addiction.
They said the men had been used by "more sinister elements".
But the Crown Court judge said the crime bore all the characteristics of a protection racket.
He said that it was committed not out of desperation, but in a cold, calculating fashion with the aim of getting money.
He commended the effectiveness of the police operation.