TWO ex-Hartlepool policemen masterminded an £11m cigarette smuggling racket – and blew the profits on fast cars and luxury holidays.
Gary Thompson, 43, and Anthony Lamb, 50, who both worked for Hartlepool Police, went from fighting crime to committing wide-scale fraud to smuggle millions of black market cigarettes into the country.
A judge said the two men used their knowledge of the law to avoid being caught, including using anti-surveillance techniques and avoiding leaving fingerprints on evidence.
They were behind an operation that involved cloning the identities of innocent people and hijacking company names to foil a shipping agency and the taxman.
Thompson and Lamb were locked up for a total of 11 years at Newcastle Crown Court yesterday after an investigation by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
Paul Rooney, of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, said: “Thompson and Lamb attempted to defraud the UK taxpayer of out more than £11m and created a complicated business network in an attempt to get away with the fraud.
“They both quite blatantly flouted laws that they were formerly employed to uphold, which makes this fraud even more brazen.
“Quite simply this pair thought they could make themselves a better life on the wrong side of the law, but HMRC is determined to crack down on criminals who think they can outsmart the UK tax system.
“This prosecution shows that no matter how well criminal gangs think they have covered their tracks, HMRC will uncover even the most elaborate of frauds.”
Thompson started the scam after leaving the police as a constable in 2006, and soon recruited Lamb.
They hijacked the identities of around 16 companies and created fake websites and email addresses to dupe shipping companies and hauliers into helping them bring illegal tobacco into the UK from the Far East.
Thompson also admitted laundering more than £2m of criminal cash by setting up a fake fish tank company.
The court heard he owns a property portfolio worth around £1m.
Married Thompson even claimed working tax credits and child tax credits, saying he was on a low income from his small pet supplies business.
But his family really enjoyed an affluent lifestyle owning properties, expensive cars and holidays with his children sent to private school.
Thompson’s bank accounts showed he made large cash deposits at local banks, sometimes on a daily basis.
Thompson and Lamb rented properties across the North of England which they used as bases for their fake companies, adopting various aliases and identities along the way.
David Lister, 49, formerly of Reeves Way, Armthorpe, Doncaster, helped them transport the illegal cigarettes after they had been smuggled into the UK.
Between them, they illegally imported around 60 million cigarettes.
Thompson, of Burdon Walk, Castle Eden, got six years after he admitted conspiracy to evade excise duty, possession of fraudulent documents, making false claims for VAT repayments and money laundering.
Lamb, of Ashbourne Drive, Coxhoe, was sentenced to five years after he was found guilty of conspiracy to evade excise duty and possession of fraudulent documents after a trial.
Lister was jailed for two years after he admitted conspiracy to evade excise duty.
The court heard that Thompson and Lamb used knowledge from their time as serving police officers to try to avoid detection and he added Thompson played the more significant role in organising the fraud.