A Leeds fraudster who led a tobacco smuggling gang in a conspiracy to put millions of illegal cigarettes on the streets – using the funds for a canal-side house with a five-a-side football pitch – has been jailed for seven years.
Discount furniture store owner, Geoffrey David Moon, of Thwaite Lane, Leeds, presided over a criminal gang which brought tobacco products worth more than £2 million in unpaid duty into the UK.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) seized millions of 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 HMRC said.
The gang was also caught with more than £1m cash made from their crimes.
Nearly half the money was found hidden within a lorry load of small metal ovens.
Moon, 53, used money from the fraud to fund a house by a canal, fully equipped with a five-a-side football pitch and a canal boat, the HMRC said.
The defendant used his business Supa Sofa Ltd on Clarence Road, Leeds, as a front for the fraud.
He was yesterday handed a seven-year jail sentence and five associates, who helped move and distribute the illegal goods and cash, were also sentenced for their roles in the conspiracy.
HMRC investigators saw the gang members with a lorry at an industrial estate in Leeds.
Border Force officers in Dover searched the lorry and found two bags containing the cash hidden inside an oven along with a small quantity of em@il red branded counterfeit cigarettes. All the ovens in the vehicle had purpose built hidden compartments.
During the operation, officials also searched a unit in Leeds, and they discovered more than seven million Excellence and Palace cigarettes, and also found Golden Virginia and Amber Leaf branded tobacco, the Crown Prosecution Service said. The counterfeit goods, worth more than £2m in unpaid duty, were seized by HMRC, it said.
Moon was found guilty of cheating the public revenue at Leeds Crown Court on April 3, 2018, and was sentenced at the same court yesterday by His Honour Judge Kearl QC.
A leader of the HMRC’s anti-fraud team has said Moon’s fraud money was enough to pay for 142 trainee firefighters.
The organisation’s assistant director, and a specialist prosecutor in the CPS’s Specialist Fraud Division spoke out after the sentencing.
Eden Noblett, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Trade in illegal tobacco harms legitimate businesses and starves the UK of money which should be used to fund our vital public services. Moon and his gang stole enough money to pay the salaries of 142 trainee firefighters for a year.”
Michelle Rhodes, from the CPS, said: “These defendants arranged for millions of cigarettes to be brought back to the UK from Europe knowing that there was money to be made in avoiding paying tax and subsequently selling them on.
"The CPS presented evidence of the millions of pounds changing hands between defendants which were the proceeds of the smuggled tobacco and the millions of cigarettes waiting to be sold in business premises around Leeds.”
Anyone with information about tax fraud is asked to report it to HMRC online or contact its Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.
Charges and sentences in full:
Heselgrave, Queenan and McKeown pleaded guilty to conspiring to cheat the public revenue and concealing criminal property.
Moon and Hirst denied the same charges but were convicted by a jury.
Geoffrey Moon, 53, of Thwaite Lane, Leeds, was given seven years’ imprisonment
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 Road, Dungannon, Northern Ireland, was handed an eight-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months.
One defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was handed a six-year prison sentence.