A man has been jailed after a Chinese takeaway was used as cover for a counterfeit cigarette operation.
David Hutchinson, 58, of Peterlee’s Eden Lane pleaded guilty to three charges of possessing counterfeit cigarettes and was jailed at Durham Crown Court for 13 months.
More than 86,000 cigarettes worth more than £17,000, £8,300 in cash and a small amount of rolling tobacco were seized in June 2015 during raids on properties associated with Hutchinson and Amanda Wen Hua Liu.
The raids followed an operation by Durham County Council officers, during which Liu supplied 133 packets of counterfeit cigarettes worth around £500 to an undercover Trading Standards officer.
The authority began investigating Hutchinson after receiving information that he was involved in supplying illicit cigarettes to ‘tab houses’ in the East Durham area using The New Century Chinese takeaway in Peterlee’s Fulwell Road as a cover.
During surveillance on his home, Hutchinson was seen loading bags into the rear of a Ford Transit pick up. Liu was later seen removing what looked like three or four sleeves of cigarettes from the vehicle and taking them into the takeaway.
Illegal tobacco is not welcome on our streetsJoanne Waller
From March until May 2015, the trading standards officer visited the business, which is owned by Liu, numerous times and was sold fake Richmond and Mayfair cigarettes, both over the counter and to order.
Raids were carried out at the takeaway and Liu’s home as well as Hutchinson’s house in Eden Lane and a small holding he owned in Salters Lane, Shotton Colliery.
Hutchinson eventually pleaded guilty to three charges of possessing counterfeit cigarettes for sale on the day of his trial in January and in mitigation asked for his health and good character to be taken into consideration.
On Friday Durham Crown Court handed him a 13-month prison sentence, half to be spent in custody and the other half on licence. He was also ordered to pay a £100 victim surcharge for each count.
Liu pleaded guilty to eight charges of supplying counterfeit cigarettes and was given a six-month suspended sentence, 100 hours of unpaid work and an £80 victim surcharge.
She expressed remorse for her actions and it was stated that the offences were out of character.
Joanne Waller, Durham County Council’s head of environment, health and consumer protection, said: “Illegal tobacco is not welcome on our streets. Not only does it have serious consequences for our health, it can make it easier for our children and young people to smoke and brings crime into our communities.
“We are working extremely hard to crack down on it and will continue to do so, taking legal action against anyone we suspect of being involved in supplying it.”