Friday, November 14, 2014

Attendant masterminded a £200,000 tobacco smuggling ring

Easyjet cabin manager Dennis Connolly
 An easyjet flight attendant masterminded a £200,000 tobacco smuggling ring - using staff discount to pay for scores of continental 'ciggie runs'. Cabin manager Dennis Connolly recruited pals as mules - including Easyjet stewardess Adele Jenkinson - in one of the biggest conspiracies of its kind. Desperate to avoid detection, the rogue airline staff swapped information about the movements of customs officers before jetting out to Spain and Portugal on day trips and short breaks.

Flying out to Faro, Malaga and Alicante with near-empty suitcases, the gang stocked up on cheap cigarettes before flying back to the UK. The cigarettes could be sold cheaply and profitably on the black market because duty had not been paid on them.

In all, Connolly organised up to 150 trips for himself and other conspirators, bringing in 1,000kg of tobacco and evading £179,773 in taxes for three years.

The 43-year-old has now been jailed for 21 months at Manchester Crown Court after admitting conspiracy to evade duty and possessing criminal property. His defence said that having already lost his career and home, jail would be 'catastrophic' for him.

The court heard Connolly, of Hawkshead Street, Southport, joined easyJet in 1999, and had enjoyed an unblemished career.

However, in 2007 his boyfriend died of pancreatic cancer and grief-stricken Connolly gambled away a £90,000 life insurance payout playing virtual roulette. He ran up debts, and was approached by a pal who suggested he set up a contraband tobacco racket.

Alex Leach, prosecuting, told Manchester Crown Court the plot unravelled in April after smugglers Terence Steele, Paul Rigby and Dale O'Brien were caught by customs and linked to Connolly's discount flight bookings, triggering a Revenue and Customs investigation.

Flight records analysis led to Jenkinson and her partner Barry Gwynn being arrested. The pair were suffering money problems when Connolly recruited them, paying them £400 a trip.

Jenkinson quit the airline after pleading guilty to conspiring to evade duty alongside the others.

Sentencing for the 'commercial scale operation', Recorder Thomas QC gave each of the others jail sentences suspended for two years.

Rigby, 44, of Lovely Lane, Warrington, got an eight-month jail sentence with a curfew, Steele, 57, of Abbotsbury Way, Liverpool, 12 months with 120 hours unpaid work, O'Brien, 36, of St Helens, 12 months with 120 hours unapid work, Gwynn, 39, eight months with 120 hours, and Jenkinson, 41, of East Avenue, Stockton Heath, 14 months with 200 hours unpaid work.

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 £2bn a year, undercutting honest businesses, and drawing people into wider criminality.

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