A cross-Channel gang of people traffickers – involving a sinister man known as ‘The Crow’ – has been smashed by Kent police.
A judge heard how two Thanet lovers made more than £100,000 from smuggling people into France.
Romanians Iulian Mirancea, 44 and his partner Tatiana Oprea, 28, of Arklow Square Margate, had come to the UK and made a living selling the Big Issue.
But car mechanic Mirancea found a way to make more money by organising lorry drivers to smuggle people – including children – to the Continent.
Prosecutor Deepak Kumar Kapur told how French and English police had launched an investigation into the trafficking network which took people from the South East over the Channel to Calais.
Mirancea would claim one of the men organising the illegal trips was a Bangladeshi man known only as The Crow – he has never been identified.
French police intercepted calls between Mirancea and his counterpart in Calais, Bicu, who would meet lorry drivers and take dozens of people to Paris.
Investigations also revealed that restaurant waitress Oprea would send money taken for the trips to France – more than £109,000 in just a few months.
But despite the size of the illegal operation, Mirancea was given a jail sentence of four years and eight months and his partner just eight months.
As both have been in custody since their arrest in June, Oprea – who has an nine year old child in Romania – is expected to be released before the weekend.
Mr Kapur told the court: “Mirancea was responsible in getting the passengers from the UK to France where they would be met by Bicu.
“He was contacted by a person known as The Crow who has never been identified. The Crow would request transport for a set number of individuals, usually between 13 and 24, including children.
“Mirancea would then source HGV drivers willing to transport the passengers. It is believed that there was a run to the Continent at least once a week.”
Police began keeping watch on Bicu in Calais and discovered in June the arrival of a lorry from the UK with 16 people inside, three from Pakistan and 13 Bangladeshis, aged between 14 and 40.
Phone records let Kent police to Ramsgate where they found Opera with two fake Italian documents and cash.
Mr Kapur said officers then looked at the couple’s multiple bank accounts and discovered £109,498 had passed through the accounts.
Mirancea would claim he received just £35 plus expenses per person for his part in the operation.
Phil Rowley, defending, said he had come to the UK with Oprea in 2011 to try to find work but struggled, even selling the Big Issue on the streets.
The couple then went to Italy and returned in 2012 when he claimed he was recruited to the gang by Bicu.
The Judge, Recorder Colin Reese QC said the couple had come to Britain believing “the streets of London were paved with gold – unfortunately you found that wasn’t the case.”
Miracea admitted trafficking people and money laundering and Oprea pleaded guilty to money laundering and possessing two fake documents.
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