The ringleader of a gang, that used an airline’s staff discounted travel to smuggle cigarettes through UK airports has been jailed for 21 months today.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) found that flight attendant Dennis Connolly, 43, and formally from Warrington, had organised over 130 smuggling trips, for himself and five others, using airline staff discounts. The gang hid cigarettes and tobacco worth £180,000 in evaded duty and taxes in their luggage.
The five men and one woman from Warrington, Liverpool, St Helens and Southport were sentenced at Manchester Crown Court today, Wednesday 1 October, after pleading guilty at an earlier court hearing.
Sandra Smith, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said:
“Airline employees hold a position of trust and abusing such privileges in order to smuggle is a serious matter. Connolly organised subsidised travel purely for smuggling purposes. There are no excuses for smuggling, whatever your status.
“Tobacco fraud costs honest taxpayers more than £2 billion a year, undercutting honest businesses, and drawing people into wider criminality. Anyone with information about illicit tobacco sales or smuggling should contact the Customs’ Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”
The gang were caught out when three of them were stopped by Border Force officers at Liverpool John Lennon Airport on two separate dates. Terence Steele, 57, was stopped in November 2013 as he attempted to pass through the Customs Green Channel with 20 kilos of hand rolling tobacco (HRT) in his luggage, after a one-day trip to Faro, Portugal.
Dale O’Brien, 36, and Paul Rigby, 44, both unemployed, were stopped together at the same airport in April 2013, with 29 kilos of HRT in their luggage, after an identical trip. An investigation by HMRC linked the smuggling activities of the gang.
Connolly, Steele and Adele Jenkinson, 41, also an airline employee, made large purchases of duty-free tobacco in Spain and Portugal for the gang to smuggle. Meanwhile, Barry Gwynn, 39, booked 12 smuggling trips for himself and others using Jenkinson’s airline staff discount.