From Prague to Toronto via Wolverhampton: Globetrotting thief locked up
The lavish lifestyle of globetrotting thief Leonard Velcu has been revealed as he started a four-and-a-half year prison sentence today.
The list of countries he has visited is almost as long as his criminal record.
Whether Velcu was exploring Finland, soaking up the sun in Majorca, sightseeing in Prague or just taking a selfie to celebrate his birthday, the 31-year-old was all smiles as he had the time of his life.
He loved to show off the lavish lifestyle that crime bought for him as he moved from place to place through Europe and further afield with theft on his mind.
The crook’s Facebook page is full of pictures of him enjoying himself at a wide variety of different locations but the salad days came to a full stop when he was led to the cells at Wolverhampton Crown Court yesterday.
Velcu, of no fixed address, and his accomplice Viorel Agapie - both members of a Romanian organised crime gang - have preyed on the elderly throughout mainland Europe and Scandinavia for years.
They first came to the UK in 2009 and were soon arrested for pickpocketing on the London underground but returned last year, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.
Velcu is now starting a four-and-a-half year sentence after targeting at least 21, mainly elderly, supermarket shoppers and using the bank cards of 17 of them to steal £12,000 in four months last year.
Fifteen of the victims were aged between 60 and 85.
'A sophisticated operation'
Judge Dean Kershaw, who jailed Velcu after he admitted conspiracy to steal, said: "This involved multiple vulnerable victims targeted in a sophisticated operation leaving them in emotional distress and causing a high level of inconvenience.
"You have a terrible criminal record involving many different countries.
"You have travelled the globe committing similar crime, exploiting a country before moving on somewhere else."
Police tracked down his accomplice to an address in Wolverhampton on January 31 but he was bailed on the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service and fled the country days later.
Meanwhile Velcu - a father whose three children aged between six and 15 are currently being looked after by his mother in Romania - had headed off on his travels again. This time the plane touched down in Canada.
A person familiar with his lifestyle explained: “He travelled globally with other members of his team and, occasionally, members of his family.
"He has been to places some of us can only dream of with one thought on his mind - committing crime.
“He would spend around three or four months on a crime sprees in a country before moving on in the expectation that he would be out of the picture if, and when, he was identified as the culprit.”
But he was caught in Croatia - shortly after narrowly escaping arrest in Majorca - and returned to the UK on a European arrest warrant on July 18.
Velcu and Agapie used a well-rehearsed routine to note the bank card PIN number used by the victim to pay for their groceries. The person was followed outside and asked if they had dropped a £10 note.
The pair then used sleight of hand to steal the card after the individual pulled out their wallet or purse to check if any cash was missing, revealed Mr Andrew Baker, prosecuting.
But the racket was smashed after DC Jason Garton from Wolverhampton CID investigated the theft of £500 from a card stolen from a pensioner at Aldi in Goldthorn Hill.
He was given details of carbon copy thefts from across the country after publicising details of the distinctive crime and was tipped off by another force that the culprits could be Velcu and Agapie.
Inquiries led him to the address in Wolverhampton where Agapie was arrested in a pre-planned raid on January 31.
Velcu is almost as familiar with prison life as the high life after serving sentences in Sweden and Denmark - he is now banned from both - and being detained in Spain, Italy and Holland.
He is likely to be behind bars for a long time because after his release from jail in the UK he is expected to be extradited on an arrest warrant to Canada, where he is suspected of committing 100 offences.
His accomplice Agapie is still on the run.
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