A member of a Romanian crime gang who scammed a Belfast petrol station for more than £5,000 walked free from court with a two-year suspended sentence.
Ioan Lacatus (31), of Hanover Street, Portadown, pleaded guilty at Belfast Crown Court to eight counts of fraud by false representation.
The offences were committed between April 12 and April 19, 2013, at the self-service Go petrol station on Great Victoria Street.
Prosecution lawyer Philip Henry said the scam originally started in England before it moved to Dublin, from where a gang travelled to Belfast to carry out the fraud.
Deputy Belfast Recorder Judge Corinne Philpott QC was told that the gang would buy pre-paid €20 and €30 cards in the Republic, which were faulty as they were registered in Luxembourg, so transactions took a day to process.
“These cards were bought over the counter and a certain amount of cash put on it, which could be topped up a later stage,’’ explained Mr Henry.
However, the gang exceeded the cards’ amount by buying substantial quantities of petrol and diesel from the Go station.
“They were filling up drums in the back of cars with large amounts of petrol which could then be transported.
“Apart from the fraud, these were dangerous vehicles on the road. They were packed to the roof with highly flammable liquid.’’
The fuel was then taken back across the border where it was used to power car wash generators, and also sold to the public for €1 per litre.
The court heard father-of-three Lacatus was later arrested by detectives and during interview he accepted he was present at the petrol station when he was shown the CCTV footage from the forecourt.
The prosecution lawyer said Lacatus had no criminal record in Northern Ireland or the Republic. He added that checks made with the Romanian authorities had come back with no answer. “In the light of that, we would say he should be given the benefit of the doubt on a criminal record,’’ he said.
A defence solicitor said Lacatus had admitted his guilt from the time of his arrest. “He now accepts that he was taking out more petrol than he should. He is a family man and he has been living in trepidation of going in to jail. In fact, he said to me: ‘Am I going to jail?’’’
Judge Philpott QC remarked: “He should have thought about that before going out to steal. He stole over £5,000 worth of fuel, but according to the pre-sentence report he has shown little remorse for his actions. You have only been in this country for a year and you have brought disgrace upon your family and your own people who are working very hard in your community.’
Suspending a two-year sentence for three years, Judge Philpott QC told Lacatus: “You have had your chance.”
In April, four other members of the same Romanian crime gang were sentenced after pleading guilty to defrauding the Go petrol station.