Dagenham crook jailed over �500k cigarette scam

“Greedy” gang members have been jailed over a �500,000 airport cigarette racket.

The six-strong band bought more than 100,000 packs of cigarettes at knockdown prices from duty-free shops with fake boarding cards and open airline tickets before selling them to bargain hunters.

John Cooper, 57, of Reede Road, Dagenham, was jailed for 12 months after being caught leaving the house of ring-leader Michael Pitt with bags thought to have contained the cheap tobacco.

Revenue and Customs investigator, Martin Brown, said: “Our officers uncovered a sophisticated and highly organised fraud by this gang led by Michael Pitt, whose motivation was pure greed.

“The effect of this type of criminal activity on legitimate retailers can be devastating and billions of pounds are lost in duty each year.”

The crooks left with their haul at the same airport or boarded domestic flights before continuing the fraud at other terminals.

Sales assistant Tracey Smith, 44, facilitated the scam by selling the majority of cigarettes to gang members at Manchester Airport.

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They evaded �545,933 of duty between February 2009 and May last year.

Jobless Cooper was found guilty of duty evasion at Lewes Crown Court on September 7.

Unemployed Pitt, of Duncan Street, Islington, was jailed for five years after being found guilty of fraud and duty evasion. He had already served time for similar offences.

Smith, of Coomassie Street, Manchester, was jailed for a year after being found guilty of duty evasion.

Unemployed Kevin McGee, 28, of Fleece Walk, Islington, was jailed for a year after being found guilty of duty evasion.

Jobless Mike Ewens, 38, of Hungerford Road, Islington, was given 12 months, suspended for two years, and a six-month curfew after being found guilty of duty evasion.

Pensioner Kenneth Chapman, 68, of Gleneagles, High Road, Benfleet, was given 200 hours’ community service and a one-year jail term, suspended for two years, after being found guilty of duty evasion.