A man has been sentenced to 18 months in prison and his elderly accomplices given suspended sentences after all three pleaded guilty to selling counterfeit cigarettes.
At an earlier hearing at Newcastle Crown Court, Catherine Dillon Lee, 70, and her husband Robert Lee, 72, of Hall Lane Estate in Willington were sentenced to 12 months in prison suspended for two years after earlier pleading guilty to conspiracy to sell and distribute counterfeit cigarettes which posed a risk to public health.
Joseph William Dukes, 50, of Moorland Close in Sunnybrow was given an 18-month custodial sentence with the option to make an application to be released on licence after nine months when he appeared at court today.
The court heard that following a tip-off, trading standards staff from Durham County Council carried out surveillance at the Lees’ address, when it quickly became apparent they were receiving a large number of visitors to the property.
In one 24-hour period, a total of 77 callers visited the house where they attended the back door and emerged a short time later.
As a result of this intelligence, a number of test purchases were carried out at the property between February and May 2016. On each occasion, the test purchase officer (TPO) was supplied with counterfeit cigarettes, which were priced at £3.50 and later given full sleeves, at a cost of £35.
When the couple were short of specific brands, they then got in touch with Dukes who would then visit their property with packages.
On one occasion, the TPO contacted Robert Lee asking for five sleeves of a particular brand of cigarettes and was told he could not supply them straight away but would be able to get them within a couple of hours.
He then made a call to Dukes who arrived a short time later and entered the house with a package before leaving. The TPO later attended the house and bought the cigarettes which were now back in stock. This confirmed Dukes’ involvement in the crime.
On May 10 2016, warrants were executed at the properties of the Lees and Dukes. More than 2,000 cigarettes were found at the Lees’ house and various quantities of cash were seized.
At Dukes’ home in Moorland Close, 46,120 cigarettes and 3.3kg of tobacco were recovered from inside the house, garage and vehicles, while £4,871.55 was seized in cash.
Mobile phones were also taken from each defendant which revealed communications between them over the course of several months.
The Lees were given credit for their early guilty pleas and the court took into account their age and health when considering their options for sentencing.