Gang ringleader from Islington jailed for cigarette fraud

A criminal gang ringleader has been jailed for five years for illegally purchasing and possessing 2.3million cigarettes from airport duty free shops.

Michael Pitt, 47, from Duncan Street, Islington, was sentenced along with five other accomplices following an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) which found that some members of the gang were purchasing the cigarettes in duty free shops at airports across the UK using fake boarding cards or one-way open tickets.

They would either exit the airport through domestic arrival channels or travel internally on a domestic flight to continue the fraud at other duty free shops. Pitt was also charged with fraud for producing and supplying the counterfeit boarding cards used in the scam.

Two other gang members would then distribute the duty free cigarettes and were observed leaving Pitt’s house with bags suspected to contain the goods, while a woman facilitated the fraud by selling the majority of the cigarettes to gang members in her role as a sales assistant at Manchester Airport’s duty free shop.

The duty evaded between February 2009 and May 2010 was �545,933.

Martin Brown, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said: “Our officers uncovered a sophisticated and highly organised fraud by this gang led by Michael Pitt, whose motivation was pure greed.

“The effect of this type of criminal activity on legitimate retailers can be devastating and billions of pounds are lost in duty each year, money which should be available for public services.”

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Pitt pleaded guilty to being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion or attempted evasion of duty on tobacco as well as fraud. He has previously served a custodial sentence for other duty evasion and fraud charges.

He was sentenced at the Hove Trial Centre last week along with five others. Two other gang members are due to appear in October.