A man from Milton Keynes who was part of illegal tobacco smuggling rings in the Midlands and Buckinghamshire has been sentenced in a £600,000 tax fraud.
Four gang members were arrested following an HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) operation in 2012, which tracked their illegal activities across the West Midlands and Milton Keynes. One of the four, along with a fifth man, was then caught reoffending while on bail in 2016.
The men from Milton Keynes, Staffordshire and Birmingham, were sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court.
HMRC initially identified two gangs active in 2011 and 2012. One, which was based around Milton Keynes, that processed raw tobacco into counterfeit tobacco at a farm in Leighton Buzzard, then packaged the tobacco at a house in Bletchley. The second gang, based around Staffordshire, bought the fake product to distribute and sold it across the West Midlands from a storage unit in Cannock.
HMRC raided the premises used by both gangs in March 2012, arrested the men and dismantled the tobacco factory, seizing tobacco, vehicles and cash.
Philip Costello, 51, of Rugeley, was jailed for five years and one month for his role with the Staffordshire gang, two years for a similar criminal offence he committed while on bail in Birmingham and 8 months for money laundering. The sentences will run concurrently.
Trevor Campbell, 51, of Hall Green, was jailed for 12 weeks in prison suspended for 21 months for the 2016 fraud linked to Costello.
Shaun Jukes, 49, Costello’s criminal partner, also of Rugeley, was jailed for two years suspended for 21 months in April 2016.
Ernestas Vadeikis 25, of Milton Keynes, who acted as a delivery driver, was jailed for four months, suspended for 21 months, in April 2016.
Qing Feng Zheng, 38, originally arrested in Milton Keynes, received a four-month suspended jail sentence in March 2016.
Richard Young, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “These determined criminal gangs operated a network to smuggle, transport, manufacture, store and sell counterfeit tobacco, purely to evade tax. This was a serious attempt on an industrial scale to steal hundreds of thousands of pounds from the public purse and undermine local businesses.
“We urge anyone with information about the trade in smuggled or counterfeit tobacco to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000. If you’re ever offered cheap or dodgy-looking cigarettes or tobacco, call us – don’t let the crooks get away with this type of fraud.”