Suspended jail sentence for Wirral shopkeeper who sold illegal cigarettesA SHOPKEEPER from Wirral sold thousands of illegal cigarettes which he had re-packaged as genuine, a court heard today.
Paul Rodrigues was apparently a legitimate businessman with three shops in Birkenhead.
But in reality, the 54-year-old store owner was selling boxes of illegal cigarettes that he had repackaged to pass off as the genuine article.
The scale of Rodrigues' criminal trade was revealed when officers from HM Revenue and Customs raided his stores and seized a total of £105,000 in cash, including £90,000 in a supermarket carrier bag.
Rodrigues, of Woodland Grove, Birkenhead, denied money laundering and evading excise duty.
He was charged with avoiding taxes totally £61,727 on 170,000 cigarettes, 204 kilos of tobacco and 35 litres of vodka.
After a trial at Liverpool Crown Court Rodrigues was found guilty of four offences, but cleared of eight others.
Martin Reid, prosecuting, told how the charges he had been convicted of related to £43,000 worth of tax and VAT being evaded.
During his trial, the court heard that in August 2007 HMRC officers intercepted a white van whilst carrying out a search of a lock-up on Price Street, Birkenhead.
Inside were 20,000 Raquel cigarettes - a brand not for Sale
legally in the UK - and two black bin bags and five carrier bags containing sealed packs of tobacco.
Officers also found 268 Romanian compost bags filled with loose tobacco.
It was clear to officers they had uncovered a tobacco-packing scam where cheap, illicit tobacco was being packed in fake wrappers and sold to unsuspecting customers.
Rodrigues, who was the driver of the van, was to the premises where further investigations revealed the dodgy vodka and more illegal cigarettes.
A further search at his R Late Store in Old Chester Road, Birkenhead revealed even more tobacco and cigarettes, as well as the £105,00 stashed in his safe. Rodrigues was also carrying £10,500 on him.
In follow-up searches at a storage container and Rodrigues’s R Late Store in New Ferry Road, and Alex and Shirley's store in Oxton Road, both Birkenhead, even more illicit items were uncovered.
Rodrigues was spared an immediate jail sentence by Judge Adrian Lyon who said he took into consideration the two years he had been waiting to know his fate.
He suspended a 12-month sentence for two years with 200 hours unpaid work.
Charlotte Kenny, defending, said Rodrigues was a hard-working man whose concern lies for his 13-year-old daughter. THE GLOBE