Back down to earth: Shamed easyJet flight attendant jailed after using staff discount to fund cig-smuggling ring

A flight attendant who led a tax evasion gang that smuggled £180,000-worth of cigarettes through airports has been jailed for 21 months.

EasyJet cabin crew member Dennis Connolly used his staff discount with the airline to send his network of crooks on trips across Europe to buy cheap cigarettes and tobacco.

HM Revenue & Customs found that the 43-year-old had organised more than 130 trips for himself and five others, smuggling the duty-free cigarettes and tobacco back through UK airports.

The gang, comprised of five men and one woman from Warrington, Liverpool, St Helens and Southport were sentenced at Manchester Crown Court yesterday, after pleading guilty at an earlier court hearing.

Sandra Smith, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation at HMRC, said: “Airline employees hold a position of trust and abusing such privileges in order to smuggle is a serious matter.

“Connolly organised subsidised travel purely for smuggling purposes. There are no excuses for smuggling, whatever your status.

“Tobacco fraud costs honest taxpayers more than £2 billion-a-year, undercutting honest businesses, and drawing people into wider criminality.

The court heard Connolly joined easyJet in 1999 and had a faultless career until his boyfriend died of pancreatic cancer in 2007.

Connolly, stricken by grief, racked up debts and gambled away a £90,000 life insurance payout.

It was at this point that a friend approached him, suggesting he set up a contraband tobacco racket.

Border Force officers at Liverpool John Lennon Airport got wind of the plot when they stopped the racket on two separate dates.

One member was caught red-handed in November 2013 as he attempted to pass through the Customs Green Channel with 20 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco in his luggage after a one-day trip to Faro, Portugal.

Alex Leach, prosecuting, told the court the plot unravelled in April after three smugglers were caught by officials and a connection was made to Connolly’s discount flight bookings.

This triggered the Revenue and Customs investigation.

Analysis of flight records led to the further arrest of two of Connolly’s colleagues, who were paid £400-a-trip to bring back contraband cigarettes.

Anyone with information about illicit tobacco sales or smuggling should contact the HMRC hotline on 0800 59 5000.

Image courtesy of Aero Icarus, inset image courtesy of HMRC with thanks

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