A KIRKBY man who headed up a gang which tried to set up a massive fake cigarette empire has been jailed for seven years.
Phillip Robinson, of Southfields Close, was a key player in a 10-man operation which investigators say was the biggest of its kind ever uncovered in the East Midlands.
If successful, the gang would have made millions of pounds and flooded the country with up to 625 million fake cigarettes and five million pouches of rolling tobacco a year.
Nottingham Crown Court was told how Robinson was heard on surveillance tapes boasting he did not work because of his illegal tobacco operations.
Robinson (46) was sentenced yesterday after Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) busted the illegal cigarette factory in Chesterfield before it could start production.
Judge Jonathan Teare said the intended reward to the operation was ‘many millions’.
He told Robinson: “You bragged you had not worked for years because this sort of crime was what you did.
“Your expectations were high; if you had succeeded in your criminal conduct you would be a millionaire by now, and the public purse would be even more depleted than it already is.”
In the co-ordinated raids in September 2009 officers who also swooped on an industrial unit in Blidworth found more equipment capable of making hundreds of millions of cigarettes a year, plus evidence the gang was branching into fake alcohol.
Also part of the gang was Peter Bent (44), of George Street, South Normanton, who was to partner Robinson in the illegal alcohol plan.
The operation was uncovered after officials decided to put the gang under surveillance after seizing millions of cigarettes from them in two previous raids in June and August 2009.
After the sentencing Gary Lampon, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said the scale of the plot was unprecedented for the region.
He said: “It was all about a criminal enterprise. Some of the comments they made showed they didn’t care who was getting in the way.
He added: “This was organised crime on an industrial scale.
“This was all about lining their own pockets and they had no regard to the potential harm such criminal activity causes to individuals, communities and legitimate businesses.”
At the Chesterfield plant officers also seized packaging for 43 million cigarettes, including paper and card to make packs of 20.
In Blidworth, at a unit on Crewe Close on the Burma Road industrial estate, a cigarette making machine destined for another criminal gang was seized.
Investigators also found 5,000 litres of 96 per cent proof alcohol in a lorry at Blidworth.
This was enough to produce 25,000 bottles of spirits such as vodka or whisky, with a revenue loss of £109,000.
At a third site at Laxton near Ollerton, 100,000 fake Golden Virginia pouches were found.
During mitigation for Robinson, the court had earlier been told that the plan had never got off the ground and that other people were involved.
Robinson was given a total of seven years and four months in prison.
He admitted seven counts related to importing cigarettes, evading duty by dealing cigarettes, producing cigarettes, producing hand rolling tobacco, producing illicit alcohol, evading alcohol duty and a charge of evading duty on cigarettes related to the machinery found at Blidworth.
Bent admitted attempting to evade duty on alcohol and was given a 10-month suspended sentence. The court was told he had continuing poor health and his criminality had been at a lower level to many of the others involved.