A 41-year-old man has been jailed for five years and four months after being found guilty of conspiracy to steal 100 vehicles in the East of England.
Miroslav Pesko, of Greenbay Road, Charlton, London was found guilty of the conspiracy after his trial at Norwich Crown Court.
The trial, which lasted nearly three weeks, finished on Thursday 5th November.
The first trial had been scheduled to take place at the beginning of 2020 but was suspended soon after it got underway owing to COVID restrictions.
CID officers from East Suffolk started an investigation in 2019 after several vehicles were stolen across the East of England.
The thefts led to six men being arrested and charged with conspiring to steal the cars.
Miroslav Pesko was arrested along with two other men, Almantas Andriuskevicius and Ignas Bielevicius both 25-years-old and both of London Road South, Lowestoft.
All three thieves were arrested in London during the early hours of 5th September 2019 after the police carried out several late-night raids.
Later that day Dzanetas Simanskas, a 27-year-old man of London Road South, Lowestoft was arrested after police executed a number of search warrants at premises in the town and Tadas Taraskevicius, a 27-year-old man, of no fixed abode, was arrested in Norwich.
Detectives interviewed the men and spent endless hours collecting evidence and speaking to victims.
In September 2019 all five were charged with conspiring with one another to steal motor vehicles between 26th January 2019 and 6th September 2019.
Andriuskevicius, Bielevicius and Simanskas were also charged with fraudulently using registration marks after they used fake number plates on the stolen vehicles to try and avoid being caught.
The five men were initially held in custody to appear before Norwich Magistrates Court in September 2019 where all, except for Tadas Taraskevicius were remanded in custody to appear before Norwich Crown Court on 7th October 2019.
A sixth man who was being investigated by police in connection with the conspiracy fled to Lithuania from the UK in 2019.
Police made an application for a European Arrest Warrant and after liaising with the Lithuanian authorities, Viktoras Sakalauskas aged 26 years was arrested.
Suffolk police officers travelled to Lithuania in October 2020 and picked up Sakalauskas.
He was returned to the UK and was charged with conspiracy to steal motor vehicles and fraudulent use of vehicle registration plates.
Sakalauskas appeared before Norwich Crown Court on 20th October and pleaded guilty to both offences and was remanded into custody to be sentenced at a later date.
Miroslav Pesko was the head of this organised crime group, using specialist skills and knowledge to facilitate the thefts of the vehicles.
Andriuskevicius, Sakalauskas, Bielevicius, Simanskas and Tarasekevicius were the callous thieves who were going out at night to steal from hard-working members of the public.
They travelled all over the East of England to steal Mercedes vans.
The court heard how Andriuskevicius and his co-defendants would drive around looking for suitable vehicles to steal.
After breaking into them, they would then remove the Electronic Ignition Switch (EIS) from the vehicle and then travel to the home address of Pesko in London.
Whilst the thieves waited nearby Pesko would recode a new blank key to work in the stolen ignition switch.
The thieves then drove back to the vehicle they had removed it from, and after fitting the ignition switch back in the van, they were then able to drive it away.
The vehicles were often then stripped of personal belongings which were dumped on the roadside.
Any vehicle tracking devices were removed and disposed of, and the genuine registration plates were replaced with cloned plates.
The gang then drove the vehicles to a garage in Essex known as a ‘chop shop’ where they were broken down into parts.
The parts were later sold on or shipped abroad.
The court heard how Pesko had links to the ‘chop shop’ based in Essex.
Dzanetas Simanskas plead guilty to the conspiracy and to fraudulently using vehicle registration plates and was jailed for 12 months when he appeared before Norwich Crown Court on 28th May 2020.
Almantas Andriuskevicius (AKA Zuira) and Ignas Bielevicius both pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and to fraudulently using vehicle registration plates when they appeared before Norwich Crown Court on 7th February 2020.
On 28th May 2020 Bielevicius was sentenced to 18 months in jail when he appeared before the same court.
Zuira is due to be sentenced at a later date.
Tadas Taraskevicius pleaded guilty when he appeared before Norwich Crown Court on 26th August 2020 and was imprisoned for a total of 15 months – nine months for the conspiracy offence and six months for unrelated theft and burglaries offences.
Detective Inspector Matt Adams who led the operation, said:
“This investigation began in May last year and was initially aimed at targeting the suspected criminal activity of those individuals who lived in Lowestoft.
“The investigation soon grew, and we were able to identify other thieves as well as the involvement of Miroslav Pesko based in London.
“The scale of the conspiracy against Pesko was proven to involve the theft of over 100 Mercedes vans from across the East of England.
“The value placed on the loss of these vehicles is well in excess of 1 million pounds, although this does not take include the loss of personal property from inside the vehicles or the loss of earnings suffered by many who relied upon their vans to go about their daily business.
“The investigation has had a number of complexities to overcome and taken several months to reach this point.
“The whole investigation team have worked exceptionally hard to bring these offenders to justice.
“I am also grateful to the support given to us by a number of other specialist policing teams from across the region.”
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