Illegal tobacco gang jailed
FOUR men have been sentenced for plot to flood Greater Manchester with smuggled duty free cigarettes and tobacco.
The gang – Mark O’Neill, 50, of Littleborough, Rochdale; Christopher Bridgeman, 49, of Failsworth; Cyril Crowe, 57, of Harpurhey, and Gerard Melville, 49, of Newton Heath – were caught after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs.
The probe found that the men had been involved in storing and transporting illicit tobacco goods in and around the North West to evade £425,000 in taxes.
The men, all of whom were unemployed, were also caught with large amounts of cash.
O’Neill, was sentenced to 46 months in jail. He was found guilty in November of conspiracy to evade UK excise duty between November.
He was driving a van when stopped in Milnrow, Rochdale, which was found to contain 200,000 Richman cigarettes in 2012. During a search of his home by HMRC officers, £20,000 cash was discovered under a pillow in the bedroom.
Bridgeman was sentenced to 31 months in prison. He had pleaded guilty o conspiracy to evade UK excise duty between November 2011 and June 2012. He was driving a van on the A1 when stopped in West Yorkshire which was found to contain 200,000 Richman Cigarettes in 2012.
Crowe was also sentenced to 31 months in jail. He was found guilty of conspiracy to evade UK excise duty between November 2011 and June 2012. Crowe was in possession of a key to one of three container storage units where the gang stored 100,000 cigarettes and 600 kilos of hand rolling tobacco.
Melville was sentenced to 22 months jail suspended for 12 months and a 200-hours community work order. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to evade excise UK duty during his trial.
Judge Steiger said at sentencing: O’Neill “played a prominent and major role in the conspiracy” and “Crowe and Bridgeman were his trusted and reliable lieutenants” while Melville was “only involved in the conspiracy from April to June 2012” and therefore merited a lesser sentence.
Sandra Smith, assistant director, criminal investigation, HMRC, said: “These men moved smuggled cigarettes and illegal cash around the North West region and, as a result of our actions, we have disrupted criminals who used illegal tobacco as a commodity to fund their lifestyles.”