A MAN has been jailed for 15 months for his role in a large-scale cigarette-smuggling operation.
Gavin Borlace, of Clifton Avenue in Wallsend, was sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court on Thursday last week after being found with more than 300,000 illegal cigarettes and nearly 90 kilos of tobacco at a property in South Tyneside.
The goods, estimated to be worth around £83,000 in unpaid duty and VAT, were seized, and Borlace was arrested and later charged with fraudulent evasion of excise duty.
He admitted that he knew the goods were illegal but claimed he was living at the property rent free in return for storing the goods at the house in Stanhope Road in South Shields on behalf of someone else.
Borlace, 34, admitted making door-to-door deliveries of black market tobacco products to regular customers, claiming he wasn’t doing anything wrong as he wasn’t getting paid for his work.
David Combe, defending, said Borlace had only been in trouble once before and that was for a driving offence.
Judge David Wood told Borlace: “The position was that you were sharing a house with another person, and out of misguided loyalty to him, you assisted him in what was clearly a well-organised and professional fraud.
“I accept you are less to blame because you did not profit from that fraud, and it is not suggested you are part of any other conspiracy to import illegal tobacco.
“However, you did render your assistance over quite a long period, and the assistance you rendered formed an important role within the operation.
“These offences are prevalent in this area.
“Apart from depriving the revenue of a good deal of money, they deprive honest shopkeepers trying to run a decent business of their livelihoods.”
HM Revenue and Customs’ regional head of investigation, Paul Rooney, said: “The sale and supply of illegal tobacco goods within local communities is something that we are keen to tackle head on.
“We want the public to realise that by supporting this illegal trade, they are not only allowing people like Gavin Borlace to live a comfortable life at the expense of the taxpayer but they are breeding crime in local communities.
“The profits from the illicit tobacco trade often fund other organised crime such as drug-trafficking and fraud.
“We urge people in local communities to come forward and let us know if they have information about people storing or selling duty-free tobacco.”