Miroslav Pesko, of Greenbay Road, Charlton, London was found guilty of the conspiracy after his trail at Norwich Crown Court, which concluded today, Thursday 5 November and had lasted almost three weeks. The first trial earlier this year was suspended after being part heard to heard due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The men were questioned by detectives and in September 2019 all five were charged with conspiring with one another to steal motor vehicles between 26 January 2019 and 6 September 2019. Andriuskevicius, Bielevicius and Simanskas were also charged with fraudulently using registration marks, namely various number plates used on stolen motor vehicles during the same time period.
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 collected 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 20 October and pleaded guilty to both offences and was remanded into custody to be sentenced at a later date.
Andriuskevicius, Sakalauskas, Bielevicius, Simanskas and Tarasekevicius were the offenders going out at night travelling all over the East of England to physically steal Mercedes vans. The prosecution accepted that Taraskevicius was a less significant member of the gang who only went out with the others on a few occasions.
The court heard how Andriuskevicius and his co-defendants would drive around looking for suitable vehicles to steal, after breaking into them they would 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 vehicles were then driven by the gang 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.
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 7 February 2020. On 28 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.
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 into consideration 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.”