Romanian organised crime group targeted stores in £150,000 ‘phone steaming’ plot

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A gang member who targeted North East stores in a £150,000 ‘telephone steaming’ plot has been brought to court.

The gang – made up of mostly Romanian young criminals – struck at a range of mobile phone shops, including Hartlepool and Darlington. The gang used violence and aggression to frighten workers and customers and steal valuables, Chronicle Live reports.

Two members of the gang – Ionathan Marin and Ionathan Stefan – were arrested in September 2021 and now justice has finally caught up with Marius Dragusano after he went on the run. Others involved fled the country and were never caught.

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Prosecutor Jonathan Walker told Newcastle Crown Court: “The conspiracy to rob spanned a period of 13 months and involved deliberately attacking mobile phone shops across a wide geographical area. The organized crime group based themselves in Leeds and sent groups of men on a journey to various shops in the Northeast and Northwest.

“They used threats and aggression before stealing cell phones and tablets.” Mr Walker said the gang stole phones and tablets worth £156,938.

The court heard that Dragusano was involved in 15 robberies and was a youth at the time. Targeted stores included the 02 in Blyth, Carphone Warehouse in The Galleries, Washington, EE in Morpeth, 02 in Hartlepool, 02 in Seaham, Carphone Warehouse in County Durham and the 02 in Darlington.

Dragusano pleaded guilty to conspiracy to rob and failed to appear in court on two previous occasions, including in May 2021, after which he remained at large until October last year. The 21-year-old, who has nine previous convictions, including for a similar robbery in 2018 and attempted burglary last year, was jailed for 30 months.

Judge Edward Legard said: “Simply put, you were part of an organized crime gang of mainly young Romanian men who, over a period of 13 months, broke into a number of mobile phone shops or similar shops and used violence, aggression and threats of violence against staff and customers, you proceeded to steal significant amounts of mobile devices, iPads, tablets and deliberately targeted the most expensive items.

“This is a crime trend known as ‘phone steaming. subjects to violence or threats of violence or aggression, will be severely punished by the courts.”

Defensively, Penny Hall said Dragusano had first become involved in such offenses when he was just 14, adding: “He was a young man who was pressured by others.

“Life has changed considerably. He moved to London to get away from his colleagues and he started a new life, married his partner and they have children together.”

Marin previously served two years and nine months in a juvenile facility, while Stefan was given a two-year and three-month juvenile probation order, supervision and 200 hours of unpaid work.

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