They preyed on tradesmen and companies the length and breadth of the country, stealing vital work vans before stripping them bare and shipping the parts to Eastern Europe.
But the Polish gang that stole around £400,000 of Mercedes Sprinter vans was today behind bars.
Three of the gang’s “foot soldiers” were caught red-handed by specialist police officers who had tracked one of the stolen vehicles back to Central Trading Industrial Estate in Darlaston.
It was in there that the vans were dismantled and completely picked apart by brothers Andrezej and Jan Morawski and Wieslaw Tomaszewski.
The three, all of Florence Street, Chuckery, Walsall, were spotted by police as they left the industrial unit and got into one of the stolen vans that had been taken from Essex.
But the gang’s “lieutenant”, 27-year-old Tomasz Siminski, led officers on a dangerous chase after failing to stop for them on the M6 at Great Barr.
Siminski, of Lilac Grove, Bentley, Walsall, was locked up for four years yesterday at Wolverhampton Crown Court and also banned from driving for two years.
Andrzej Morawski, aged 36, was given 16 months behind bars, his 26-year-old brother got 21 months and Tomaszewski, 47, got 22 months.
Detectives who unravelled the crime today described the discovery as a “coup”. They said it came as part of an national investigation into the mass theft of commercial vehicles.
Acting Det Sgt James Aston from Bloxwich said: “We knew there were gangs operating to steal Sprinter vans.
“Officers were working across forces looking into it. It was a bit of a coup for us to find these people.
“We are pleased with the result. The sentence reflects that justice catches up with those at the top end of these crimes.”
The criminals set up the operation in December 2009.
They were eventually caught after the owner of a van stolen on February 12 this year in north London called the police to say he had been able to use his computer to log on to the tracking device.
Once the device had been activated, it pointed to Unit 7 at Central Trading Estate in Bills Street. After arresting the Morawski brothers and Tomaszewski in the stolen van, officers searched the unit and found four vans bearing false plates, a number of engines, a key to a BMW, documents relating to the BMW and parts of it, including a rear axle.
The men then told officers the unit, which was being rented for £6,500 a year, belonged to Siminski.
Prosecutor Mr David Iles said a marker was put on the police national computer for Siminksi’s Vauxhall, which was spotted days later on the M6 near junction seven at Great Barr.
After failing to stop, he was then chased along the motorway and along Newton Road, where he turned on to the opposite carriageway and drove the wrong way towards oncoming motorists.
He was arrested minutes later in Ray Hall Road where he pulled over. In his car was his mistress, 25-year-old Patrycja Hydel. Searches of the married father-of-one’s Bentley home and Hydel’s former address in Brickhouse Lane South, Tipton, uncovered identification documents bearing other names he had used.
Mr Iles added: “Siminski was behind it. He is the one with the money.”
The four-strong gang all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal and Siminski also admitted dangerous driving and possession of false identification documents.
Two BMW cars were also stolen as part of the plot and £5,500 cash seized from Siminski’s home.
The Polish mechanic moved to the UK almost eight years ago to work with his father in the building trade.
His father has since returned to Poland but he stayed, setting up home with his wife and daughter in Walsall before falling into criminal activity.
Miss Sarah Buckingham, defending him, said he was not the ring leader but now accepts that he played his part.
The defence for the Morawski brothers and Tomaszewski was that they were family men who came to this country to find work.
Judge John Warner said: “For those individuals and companies whose vehicles these were, clearly there was real commercial loss and other consequences to do with the loss of the vehicles.
“The extent of this overall, and the value and number of vehicles is such that as a consequence in my judgement this is right at the top end of such cases of this kind.”
A charge against Hydel, of possession of criminal property, was allowed to lie on file.
Another suspect, Patrick Banas, evaded arrest and is thought to have fled the country.
Please click here to read the full story as reported by Express and Star.
Click to view the profile for David Iles, Sarah Buckingham, and Phil Bradley.