The ringleader of a gang caught with more than nine million illegal cigarettes at a Wellingborough industrial estate has been jailed.
Oleg Cretu, 37, of Agnes Road in Northampton, was investigated by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) after £356,185 in cash and the cigarettes were discovered during a search of a unit at the Leyland Estate in Irthlingborough Road in September 2018.
HMRC officers seized the money and 9,510,360 mixed branded cigarettes worth £3.4m in unpaid duty from the unit, which was rented by Cretu.
Cretu, along with Daniel Pascaru of London, Sebastian Hanczur of Dorset and Alan Ali of Derby, used a nearby car park as a base to meet customers and take payment, before collecting goods from the unit.
The money they pocketed was enough to fund the salaries of 167 trainee firefighters in the East Midlands.
Simon Kiefer, assistant director at HMRC's Fraud Investigation Service, said: “The gang, led by Cretu, was aiming to undercut legitimate retailers with this large quantity of smuggled cigarettes.
"Cretu thought his scam would go unnoticed and he could flood the UK streets with millions of pounds worth of illegal goods, but he was wrong.
“The money they pocketed was equivalent to the salaries of 167 trainee firefighters in the East Midlands.
“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clamp down on the illicit tobacco market.
"This is theft from the taxpayer, denying public services much needed money. We urge anyone with information about this, or any other tax fraud, to contact HMRC online or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
The gang’s scam came undone after they were caught acting suspiciously in the car park. The gang led officers to the unit full of cigarettes and cash, hidden in cupboards and carrier bags.
They would meet customers in the car park, take payment and leave the buyer waiting while they collected the goods. This was done in a bid to keep the location of the unit secret.
Investigators believe Cretu orchestrated the scam, Hanczur and Pascaru acted as the link between buyers and suppliers, and Ali was involved in laundering the money.
The men admitted their crimes at Northampton Crown Court earlier this month.
Cretu was sentenced to 38 months in prison at the same court on Wednesday (June 26).
The remaining gang members were also convicted for their roles in the fraud. Pascaru was sentenced to 32 months in prison with Ali jailed for 16 months.
Hanczur was sentenced to a 15-month community order with 200 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay costs of £1,200.