An £8.5 million tobacco smuggling scam was smashed in the Black Country, it can be revealed today as three of its main players start prison sentences.
The men were part of a 13-strong gang that secretly imported raw leaf into the UK through Italy along with cutting and shredding machines.
They used manufacturing plants in Wolverhampton, Wednesbury, Dudley and other towns in the Midlands to turn the leaf into counterfeit hand rolling tobacco that was sold across the UK under the guise of the Golden Virginia brand.
The fraud was foiled when Customs and Excise officers swooped after a four-and-a-half year investigation. Phillip Hall, aged 52, who used three addresses, in Wolverhampton,
Wednesbury and Rugeley, was described by investigators as a pivotal figure in the fraud. He admitted fraudulently evading duty and was jailed for two years, to run concurrently with two other prison terms he is serving for carbon copy offences.
Investigators estimated that the group were plotting to gain £8.5m of taxpayers’ money.
Thomas Connors, 35, of Showell Road, Bushbury, Wolverhampton, who arranged premises for the production of the bogus Golden Virginia and hired vehicles to collect the tobacco on its arrival in the UK, was locked up for three-and-a-half years after being convicted of the fraud following a trial at Nottingham Crown Court.
John O’Brien, 56, of Fifth Avenue, Low Hill, also Wolverhampton, who also helped arrange premises and collected the tobacco, admitted the offence and was jailed for two years, two months.
How tobacco baron’s plan went up in smoke - See your Weekend Express & Star