A FATHER-of-four has been jailed after illegally importing nearly £200,000 worth of cigarettes into the country.
Lorry driver Geoffrey Peter Jones, 42, was jailed for 18 months after pleading guilty to multiple charges involving the laundering of cigarettes worth more than £185,000.
His wife, Donna Marie Jones, 43, a dinner lady, was also sentenced yesterday after she admitted attempting to help cover up her husband’s crimes as police executed a search warrant at their home.
The couple were arrested after Cheshire Police caught Geoffrey Jones attempting to sell boxes of contraband tobacco and cigarettes from the back of his lorry on April 16 last year, Chester Crown Court was told.
Officers then stormed their home in Toft Close, Saltney, to search for more illegal products and found more than £183,000 hidden in a mattress and a suitcase in the attic and in other parts of the property, the court heard.
Geoffrey Jones admitted two charges of moving and concealing prohibited imported goods and illegally possessing cigarettes valued at £3,561.
He has also admitted concealing criminal property in respect to the money found at his home and two charges of possession of articles for use in fraud, involving counterfeit cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Donna Jones pleaded guilty to concealing criminal property in respect of £5,670 recovered from the couple’s home.
Owen Edwards QC, prosecuting, said Donna Jones had attempted to hide an envelope filled with money, telling officers who were searching her property she “just needed to get the mopheads out of the basket”.
“Officers saw an envelope,” said Mr Owens. “It contained £5,670 in cash. She said it was her holiday money.”
Detectives also found lists of customers with hand-written receipts for tobacco and cigarette products, which ‘matched’ the amount of money discovered.
“In police interview Geoffrey Jones said he worked as a lorry driver. He said he had set up his own business, A2Z Driving Ltd. He dealt in cash and did not trust banks.”
Mr Owens added: “His wife is a part time dinner lady. She said she had no idea large amounts of money were in the house and she said she did not know about the illegal cigarettes.”
He said Geoffrey Jones operated a fruit and vegetable stand at a car boot sale in Winwick, near Warrington, and had told police he made “£800 each morning”, a claim he later retracted. At an earlier hearing it was also said the lorry driver ran a fruit and veg store in Wrexham.
Gillian Batts QC, defending Geoffrey Jones, said: “He accepts what he has done is criminal. Not withstanding the variety of occupations he engaged in, he did not have a lavish lifestyle.
“His employment did bring him into contact with drivers who brought the products into the country. He works hard to support his family. His neighbours have described him as hard-working and his children as well-mannered.”
She added: “It has been extremely upsetting for the family as a whole.”
Ian White QC, representing Donna Jones, said: “This was not her enterprise. She was aware her husband was dealing with contraband cigarettes but was not aware to the extent.
“When they came round to her home address she accepts she tried to conceal an amount of money from police. Her first thought in the middle of the night was that something had happened to her husband. When she realised why they were there she panicked.”
In sentencing Geoffrey Jones, Judge Roger Dutton QC, said: “This was a very substantial icing on the cake which defrauded the public revenue of quite a lot of money. The only way of dealing with a case of this seriousness is custody.”
Judge Dutton told Donna Jones: “You have family responsibilities. You are a woman of good character, but you have been led astray by your husband.”
She was sentenced to a 12 months community order and was ordered to carry out 200 hours’ unpaid work.
See full story in the Chester Leader