A Buckhaven man who was one of four caught red-handed with more than 1.2 million illegal cigarettes in Stoke-on-Trent has been sentenced.
Mark Taylor, 50, of Den Street, and Altaf Umarji, 47, from Leicester, were caught by HM Revenue and Customs investigators in January 2014 with nearly 900,000 illegal cigarettes at a Little Chef car park, near Talke.
Paul Taft, 42, from Stoke, and Surinder Heer, 44, from Walsall, had been loading boxes into a VW van at a nearby pallet company.
Both men tried to run from the scene, but were stopped and arrested.
Officers discovered 215,400 cigarettes inside the vehicle and a further 88,200 non-duty paid cigarettes in a container.
Taylor and Umarji had driven in convoy to the restaurant car park after first meeting in a lay-by on the A500.
Taylor was challenged and arrested by HMRC officers who found the cigarettes.
Umarji escaped from the scene, but was pursued by police officers who discovered £5,000 in Scottish bank notes inside the car.
He was also caught on camera throwing cigarettes from the van he was driving.
Angela McCalmon, the assistant director of HMRC’s fraud investigation service, said: “These four were involved in theft from the taxpayer on a massive scale.
“People involved in the supply and sale of illegal cigarettes are depriving public services of vital funding and undermining legitimate traders.
“The £600,000 of lost public money in this case is the equivalent starting salary of 25 police officers.”
All four men have been convicted of excise duty evasion and Umarji was also convicted of dangerous driving and handed a nine-month suspended prison sentence in June 2014.
Umarji pled guilty to fraudulent evasion of excise duty following his arrest.
Taylor, Taft and Heer pled guilty to the same offence on the opening day of their trial last December.
The men were sentenced to a total of 30 months prison at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court.
Taylor was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for 18 months.
He was also ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work.
The 1.2 million 777 branded cigarettes, worth more than £600,000 in unpaid duty, have been seized and destroyed.
Adding “this crime affects us all”, Ms McCalmon added that anyone with information should report it to the HMRC online or call the fraud hotline on 0800 788887.