Easyjet crew used staff discount in £200k cigarette smuggling operation

Cabin manager Dennis Connolly Credit: MEN Syndication

An easyjet flight attendant who masterminded a £200,000 tobacco smuggling ring has been jailed.

Cabin manager Dennis Connolly recruited pals as mules - using staff discount to pay for scores of continental 'ciggie runs' - in one of the biggest conspiracies of its kind.

Desperate to avoid detection, the staff swapped information about the movements of customs officers before jetting out to Faro, Malaga and Alicante. The Manchester Evening News reports they took near-empty suitcases, and stocked up on cheap cigarettes before flying back. The cigarettes could be sold on the black market at a profit as no duty had been paid on them.

In all, Connolly organised up to 150 trips for himself and other conspirators, bringing in 1,000kg of tobacco and evading £179,773 in taxes for three years. The 43-year-old has now been jailed for 21 months at Manchester Crown Court after admitting conspiracy to evade duty and possessing criminal property.

The court heard Connolly, of Hawkshead Street, Southport, joined easyJet in 1999, and had enjoyed an unblemished career.

However, in 2007 his boyfriend died of pancreatic cancer and grief-stricken Connolly gambled away a £90,000 life insurance payout playing virtual roulette. He ran up debts, and was approached by a pal who suggested he set up a contraband tobacco racket. His defence said that having already lost his career and home, jail would be 'catastrophic' for him.

Sentencing for the 'commercial scale operation', Recorder Thomas QC gave each of the others jail sentences suspended for two years.

Airline employees hold a position of trust and abusing such privileges in order to smuggle is a serious matter. "Connolly organised subsidised travel purely for smuggling purposes. There are no excuses for smuggling, whatever your status. “Tobacco fraud costs honest taxpayers more than £2bn a year, undercutting honest businesses, and drawing people into wider criminality.

– Sandra Smith, HMRC.