An investigation into an organised crime group responsible for a series of burglaries which saw officers work with law enforcement agencies across Europe has resulted in three men being jailed for a total of 14 years and two months.
Detectives worked with the National Crime Agency, Interpol, Europol, the International Crime Coordination Centre as well as the Met Police, Police Scotland and police in Romania to catch Constantin Dragomir, George Ioan and Claudiu Popa.
All three were subsequently convicted at Bristol Crown of conspiracy to burgle multiple properties across the Avon and Somerset policing area in January 2020.
Dragomir became the final member of the gang to be sentenced when appeared at Bristol Crown Court yesterday (Monday 3 July). The 33-year-old was jailed for five years eight months.
Ioan and Popa had previously been jailed for six years and three years and 10 months respectively.
During their short crime spree the trio stole electrical equipment along with large amounts of jewellery, silverware and sentimental items such as war medals.
Initial enquiries at the homes they targeted identified fingerprints, DNA and shoe wear marks but none matched any of the samples or records on police databases, leaving investigators with very few lines of enquiry to pursue.
However, Romanian police stopped Popa for a traffic offence a month after the series, finding a haul of stolen goods in the back of his car. The officers were unable to detain Popa but they seized his car and it was later established many of the stolen items were from the Bristol area.
Working with the International Crime Coordination Centre (ICC) and Europol, detectives established Popa, along with Dragomir and Ioan had been working as delivery drivers in the Avon and Somerset area which allowed them to identify vulnerable properties to target.
Several weeks later, Popa was found to have returned to the UK and working in a hotel in Scotland. He was arrested and jailed at Bristol Crown Court in May 2020 after admitting his involvement in 11 burglaries.
Detectives subsequently took part in a virtual meeting at the International Criminal Court in The Hague to coordinate a series of warrants in Romania. Neither Dragomir or Ioan were located during these warrants but further evidence was recovered.
Using phone records, fingerprint and DNA evidence and with the help of the delivery company which employed the three men, officers built up a strong case against the two still at large, resulting in the Crown Prosecution Service authorising they both be charged with 24 counts of conspiracy to burgle.
Ioan, aged 41, was arrested earlier this year entering Romania and after being extradited, appeared at Bristol Crown Court in March where he was jailed. Sentencing him, the judge told him his offending in other countries was an aggravating factor.
Dragomir was subsequently found in prison in Finland, where he was serving a sentence for burglary offences. Upon his release he too was extradited back to the UK to face a charge of conspiracy to burgle. He will be deported after serving his sentence.
Detective Inspector Scott Chadwick, the senior investigating officer, said: “This organised crime group had a significant impact on the local community.
“Working as delivery drivers they targeted vulnerable people, the majority of which were elderly, stealing valuable and sentimental items from them which they would then sell.
“A lot of the items they stole were sold abroad which made it extremely difficult to recover and return to its rightful owners but thankfully we have been able to return property to 12 victims.”
He added: “During this investigation we faced a number of challenges, with Covid restricting officers from travelling abroad to carry out enquiries and victims having to be shown recovered property on video calls rather than in person, to changes in legislation midway through the inquiry.
“We never gave up pursuing Dragomir, Ioan and Popa and this was recognised by the judge who awarded Crown Court Commendations to six of the officers involved in the investigation.
“Victims have waited more than three years to see the men who broke into their homes held to account and I’d like to thank them for their patience. I hope this outcome reassures them and the wider community of our commitment to investigating burglary offences.
“I’d also like to thank all the law enforcement agencies who assisted us with this investigation. Criminals don’t respect borders and in this case it’s needed a Europe-wide effort to bring these offenders to justice.”