A Sheffield ‘wheeler-dealer’ who orchestrated a £1m illegal cigarette, tobacco and alcohol business from his prison cell has been sent back to jail.
Father-of-seven Irvin Dunn and his ex-Army brother Wayne Dunn were both sent to prison at Sheffield Crown Court on Thursday for their roles in a 2013 conspiracy that involved the distribution and sale of hundreds of thousands of cigarettes that had no tax paid on them, as well as the storage of hundreds of litres of illegal vodka and beer in a barn near Doncaster.
Two of their co-conspirators from Ireland were caught with a bag containing £110,000 in cash at East Midlands Airport, with one of them attempting to escape arrest by running off and flagging down a passing car - only to find it was being driven by a criminal investigator from HM Revenue and Customs.
Nicola Quinney, prosecuting, said guilty pleas to conspiracy to evade duty were made on the basis of the seized goods being worth around £250,000, with seized ‘deal sheets’ indicating an estimated further income of £805,907 from sales.
The court heard that Irvin Dunn played a central role in the conspiracy, despite being in prison at the time for causing unnecessary suffering to animals at a farm he had run.
Transcripts of prison phone calls between Irvin Dunn and his brother Wayne showed the jailed man passing commands about the conspiracy to his older brother via coded messages.
Sentencing, Judge Paul Watson QC said Irvin Dunn had ‘operational control’ of the conspiracy, despite being behind bars.
Judge Watson said: “The fact you were directing operations from within a prison cell is a seriously aggravating factor in this case.”
He added: “I accept on your behalf there is no evidence here of an excessive lifestyle or luxury purchases or vast properties indicating perhaps a more widespread operation.”
Judge Watson said Irvin Dunn had a previous conviction for a similar crime.
The full extent of the fraud began to unravel after HMRC officers witnessed the handover of a bag containing almost £110,000 involving two Irish members of the gang - James Woods and Vincent McGeough - close to East Midlands Airport in April 2013.
Woods was arrested immediately but McGeough fled, flagging down a car only to find it was being driven by an HMRC investigator. He was then arrested and mobile phones and the cash seized.
It soon became clear Wayne Dunn, already on bail after being stopped in Ipswich driving a van containing 800,000 illicit cigarettes in February 2013, was an associate of the men, having been observed meeting with them earlier on the same day. He was arrested shortly afterwards.
The development helped investigators link Wayne Dunn back to an unattended van found laden with 169,000 illicit cigarettes in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, in January 2013, from which records showing tobacco purchases and sales were seized.
Searches were carried out of Dunn’s home as the conspiracy unfolded, leading HMRC officers to his younger brother, Irvin Dunn, who appeared to be organising the fraud from his prison cell.
The fifth person to be sentenced, Lee Pearson, was connected to the case in October 2013 after a van linked to the Dunn brothers was found outside barns in Everton, near Doncaster, that were used as storage premises and looked after by him.
The vehicle was strewn with packets of tobacco and cigarettes after having its window smashed in a break-in.
Investigators found tobacco and more than 1,000 litres of illicit beer and vodka, which contained toxic methanol 150 times the legal limit, inside the barns.
Pearson was in charge of the premises and phone analysis showed he was part of the conspiracy, having sold on some of the tobacco to family members.
Raglan Ashton, representing Irvin Dunn, said his client currently makes money by selling out-of-date food and regretted his involvement in the illegal cigarette operation.
He said: “He is a wheeler-dealer, that is what he does.
“On this occasion, he clearly did cross the line. He has learned a very significant lesson.”
Judge Watson said Wayne Dunn, a former frontline solider in the 1970s and 1980s, had pleaded guilty on the grounds that he was not a ‘stakeholder’ in the illegal business but instead received ‘standalone payments’ for taking part in the activities.
He said: “You have served you country in the past. In every other respect [beyond this case], you have been a decent and hard-working citizen.”
Irvin Dunn, aged 56, originally from Sheffield but now living in rented accommodation in the Station public house, Rotherham, was sentenced to three years in jail for conspiracy to evade duty.
Wayne Dunn, aged 58, of Abbeyfield Road, Pitsmoor, Sheffield, was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment for conspiracy to evade duty.
Lee Pearson, aged 33, of Wilberforce Road, South Anston, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment suspended for 18 months and fine £2,000 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to evade duty.
Both James Woods, aged 58, of Canal Road, Dundalk, Republic of Ireland and Vincent McGeough, aged 68, Caramoyle Estate, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, were given 12 months imprisonment suspended for 18 months after pleading guilty to money laundering.
Fraud investigators today welcomed the sentencing of the five men involved.
Stuart Taylor, assistant director of the Fraud Investigation Service for HMRC, said he hoped the case served as a warning to others involved in schemes to sell illegal items without paying tax.
He said: “These men all played a part in flooding the UK with illegal cigarettes, tobacco and alcohol solely to line their own pockets with money that should have been funding vital public services.
“Irvin Dunn even pulled the strings while he was in prison using coded messages. But their fraud has been broken down and picked apart and now they are all paying the price.
“The evasion of excise duty is a criminal offence. If you are caught you will not only have your goods seized but you may also face prosecution and, if convicted, a criminal record and potentially a prison sentence. Anyone with information about the illegal trade in smuggled cigarettes and tobacco should contact 0800 59 5000.”