International crime gang busted after targeting Wolverhampton Aldi
An international organised crime operation has been smashed after a theft from a pensioner in a Black Country Aldi.
Leonard Velcu and his accomplice Viorel Agapie preyed on the elderly throughout mainland Europe and Scandinavia.
But their downfall came when they decided to target a supermarket in Wolverhampton.
Today Velcu was being sentenced for the crime, while Agapie has gone on the run and is still wanted.
Part of an elaborate and organised Romanian criminal gang, the pair used a well-rehearsed trick to obtain the pin numbers of elderly shoppers as they toured supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl across Europe.
Wolverhampton Crown Court heard the Romanians struck at least 21 times throughout England, stealing £12,000 in less than four months with a well-planned scam.
Targeting vulnerable customers
They targeted very ordinary suburban supermarkets and looked for a vulnerable shopper, the older the better, revealed Mr Andrew Baker, prosecuting.
When the victim pulled out their bank card to pay one of them caused a distraction to make both the customer and cashier look away while the other thief noted the PIN number entered into the card payment machine.
The pair then followed the person outside where they asked if the individual had just dropped a £10 note, prompting the unsuspecting victim to bring out their wallet or purse to check.
Mr Baker continued: “One of them manages by slight of hand to take the bank card without the theft being noticed. It is then used to drain the account or to buy expensive clothes.”
Fifteen of the people targeted were aged between 60 and 85.
They included an 84-year-old victim who had £1,700 taken from their bank account and another being followed four miles to her Kendal home before her card could be stolen.
But it was after the theft of £500 from a card stolen from a pensioner at Aldi in Goldthorn Hill, Wolverhampton, that they were finally caught out.
The theft sparked an investigation that uncovered the extent of the operation.
Dc Jason Garton from Wolverhampton CID was given the job of investigating the crime.
He was given details of carbon copy thefts from across the country after publicising details of the distinctive theft.
He also got a tip from another force whose brief dealings with Velcu and Agapie some time ago suggested they were the likely culprits.
Dc Garton became the national lead for the whole inquiry as he gathered details of the other offences and the investigation led him to an address in Wolverhampton where Agapie was arrested in a pre-planned raid on January 31.
The suspect was questioned and released on bail pending further inquiries on the orders of the Crown Prosecution Service.
Days later he fled the country and is still on the loose.
Meanwhile 31-year-old Velcu had headed for Canada where he is suspected of having committed 100 offences.
European arrest warrants were issued for the duo, who had a narrow escape in Majorca before Velcu was arrested in Croatia on July 6 and returned to the UK 12 days later.
He has been banned from both Sweden and Denmark after serving jail sentences in each country for similar offences. He has also been caught in Spain, Italy and Holland, it was said.
Velcu, of no fixed address, admitted conspiring with others to steal between August 1 and November 30 last year and was due to be sentenced by Judge Dean Kershaw today.
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