Tobacco smuggling Leeds gang member jailed after three years on the run

A Leeds man has been jailed for his role in a criminal tobacco smuggling gang after spending three years on the run.

Monday, 24th May 2021, 4:08 pm
Updated Monday, 24th May 2021, 4:10 pm

Andrew Bilton, formerly of Latchmere Road in West Park, was part of a criminal gang that smuggled tobacco worth more than £2 million in unpaid duty into the UK.

The 56-year-old was caught handling more than £225,000 in criminal cash linked to the sale of illegal tobacco by by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers in August 2014.

Bilton went on the run three years ago, fleeing the country before a trial was due to start in April 2018.

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Andrew Bilton, formerly of Latchmere Road, Leeds, has been jailed for his role in a criminal tobacco smuggling gang. Photo: HMRC

He was arrested by HMRC officers when he arrived back into the UK on a flight from Amsterdam on 1 May 2021.

Bilton admitted two counts of money laundering, and absconding, at Leeds Crown Court on May 21.

He was sentenced to 2 years and 5 months in prison.

Eden Noblett, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: "Bilton thought he could escape punishment for his crimes, but now he has to face the consequences.

Seized money

"People involved in money laundering help to fund the illegal activities of organised crime gangs, and other illegal activity that causes real harm to our communities, such as drugs, guns and human trafficking.

"We will not hesitate to seize proceeds of crime and investigate anyone who may be involved."

Bilton's associates were sentenced in May 2018.

Discount furniture store owner, Geoffrey David Moon, of Thwaite Lane, Leeds, presided over the criminal gang.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) seized more than eight million cigarettes and 200kg of hand-rolling tobacco from an industrial unit used by Moon and his gang in 2015.

All the goods were counterfeit.

The gang was also caught with more than £1 million cash made from their crimes.

Nearly half the money was found hidden within a lorry load of small metal ovens.

Moon used his business Supa Sofa Ltdon Clarence Road, Leeds, as a front for the fraud and let gang members use company vehicles to make tobacco and cash drop-offs.

Five cash seizures totalling £1,111,180 were made from gang members between 2014 and 2016.

The largest coming in July 2014 when £499,890 was found.

Moon used money from the fraud to fund a house by the canal, fully equipped with a 5-a-side football pitch and a canal boat.

Moon was handed a seven-year jail sentence for his crimes at Leeds Crown Court on May 11, 2018.

His associates, who helped move and distribute the illegal goods and cash, were also convicted for their roles in the conspiracy.

Sean Hirst, 52, of Kelsall Terrace, Leeds, was handed a five and-a-half year prison sentence.

Paul Heselgrave, 46, of Temple Drive, Leeds, was handed a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to do 150 hours unpaid work.

Anthony Queenan, 57, of Briarsdale Heights, Leeds, was handed a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to do 150 hours unpaid work.

Gerard McKeown, 60, of Clonmore Rd, Dungannon, Northern Ireland, was handed an eight-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months.

Another defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was handed a six-year prison sentence.