- Gang built cabinet so one of them could hide inside large void in middle
- Wanted to secretly switch Euros for fake cash during deal in Manchester
- Officers recovered €2.2m in counterfeit money and £52,000 of real notes
- Four men aged 17, 37, 45 and 73 are jailed for total of almost ten years
A gang of grifters who used a flat-pack wooden desk cabinet as a ‘Trojan Horse’ in a bid to pull off a £1.5million gold bullion sting worthy of the TV show Hustle have been jailed for almost ten years.
The gang posing as rich Italian businessmen built the cabinet so one of them could hide inside a large void in the middle at a hotel and secretly switch a haul of Euros for fake money during a deal.
They planned to put one of the men inside the desk, show the jeweller real cash in a briefcase and then switch this with an identical case containing counterfeit notes - which he would then take away.
But the four-man gang were caught when police swooped on a conference room at the hotel near the Trafford Centre in Manchester and found them making the wooden furniture ahead of their con.
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Jail terms: Luigi Arcuri (left), 73, Nikolic Giuliano (centre), 37 and Antonino Ballistreri (right), 45, were each sentenced to two years and eight months for conspiracy to defraud and possession of counterfeit currency
In construction: The gang posing as rich Italian businessmen built the cabinet so one of them could hide inside a large void in the middle and secretly switch a haul of Euros for fake money during a deal
Flat-pack desk: While a price was agreed, the money would be switched by the man hidden inside the cabinet for an identical brief case containing the worthless counterfeit notes
At Manchester Crown Court yesterday, Luigi Arcuri, 73, Nikolic Giuliano, 37 and Antonino Ballistreri, 45, were each sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.
A 17-year-old boy who cannot be named for legal reasons, was given 16 months in jail. All admitted conspiracy to defraud and possession of counterfeit currency.
Police suspected the men planned to keep the real money in a briefcase inside a drawer of the cabinet and show it to a wealthy jeweller at a pre-arranged meeting ahead of a deal for gold bullion.
But while a price was agreed, the money would be switched by the man hidden inside the cabinet for an identical brief case containing the worthless counterfeit notes. Inside a drawer, officers recovered €2.2million in counterfeit money as well as £52,000 worth of legitimate Euro notes.
Officers suspected similar scams had been carried out across Europe in which business had been conned out of jewellery and gold bullion worth millions of pounds.
Cash in the draw: The quartet are suspected of being part of a larger, highly organised gang responsible for defrauding businesses across Europe out of jewellery and gold bullion worth millions of pounds
Euros seized by police: Inside a drawer, officers recovered €2.2million in counterfeit money as well as £52,000 worth of legitimate Euro notes
Police said the investigation began on December 17 last year after four people were stopped by border officials at the UK control zone in Coquelles, France. Three people were in an Italian registered BMW, and Ballistreri and another man were travelling in a Fiat Panda.
They are skilled and well versed fraudsters, able to dupe the most security conscious and discerning of individuals
Detective Inspector Rob Cousen, Greater Manchester Police
Inside the Fiat was a forged Swiss identity card that contained an image of one of the men and 95 bundles cash each containing €25,000.
One of the men was found to be carrying a further forged Swiss identity card and a forged Swiss driving licence in the name of Marco Alberto Ferrari. The photo on the driving licence was a picture of Ballisteri.
All were arrested, interviewed and bailed pending further enquiries.
But that same day, detectives found that men purporting to be Italian businessmen had been negotiating the purchase of jewellery worth €2million from Rockefeller’s jewellers in Manchester.
They first contacted the shop by phone on December 12, and this was followed by a visit by the teenager, who gave his name as ‘Benjamin Berman’, and Ballistreri, who gave his name as ‘Mr Ferrari’ on December 15.
Caught on CCTV: Two members of the group were observed going to the Thistle Hotel near the Trafford Centre, moving the flat-pack table on a trolley ahead of assembling it in a conference room
First floor camera: The men are pictured making their way through the hotel with their kit, before setting it up in a conference room. Police swooped on the room and found them busy assembling the wooden furniture
Both were well dressed and wore Rolex watches. They ordered 41 high value items totalling two million euros and arrangements were made to meet at a hotel, where a Swiss banker, who would be in possession of the €2million in cash, would be present.
On December 19, the teenager called the jewellers to say that the money was in the country and details of the hotel would be provided ahead of an exchange the following day.
I suspect the quartet to be part of a much larger gang responsible for multiple frauds worth countless millions
Detective Inspector Rob Cousen
He and Ballistreri were then placed under covert surveillance and monitored as they returned to the shop and finalised the deal.
They were observed going to the Thistle Hotel near the Trafford Centre before going to a supermarket where they bought a torch to be used by the man inside the desk.
Enquiries revealed that a telephone number used to contact Rockefeller’s was also used to contact other jewellers and coin merchants in the region.
The telephone enquiries revealed that the 17-year-old had also attempted to defraud Diamond Watches in London in November, Classic Jewellers and Camelot Diamonds in Brighton in November and had attempted to launder cash in Brighton Exchange in November.
The men outside the shop: Detectives discovered that men purporting to be Italian businessmen had been negotiating the purchase of jewellery worth €2million from Rockefeller's jewellers (above) in Manchester
Grifters: The £1.5million gold bullion sting would have been worthy of the TV show Hustle, starring (from left) Robert Glenister, Matt Di Angelo, Adrian Lester, Rob Jarvis, Kelly Adams and Robert Vaughn
The teenager also pleaded guilty to all these additional counts.
Detective Inspector Rob Cousen of Greater Manchester Police said: ‘This was a well-run, highly sophisticated scam and, had we not intervened, a Manchester business stood to lose significant amounts of stock worth a substantial sum.
‘I suspect the quartet to be part of a much larger gang responsible for multiple frauds worth countless millions, who have been operating across most of Europe. They are skilled and well versed fraudsters, able to dupe the most security conscious and discerning of individuals.
‘To catch them red-handed is a fantastic result as we have been able to stop them in their tracks and prevent them from committing serious crime.'
He added: ‘We will now be working with other law enforcement agencies to establish the extent of the criminal network behind them that has been operating here and abroad.
'We obviously don’t want to tell people how to run their businesses, but this case - and those where the frauds have been successful - should act as a very stark warning to jewellers to up their game and, if necessary, practices, when it comes to such high-value business deals.'
BBC TV series Hustle, which ran for eight series from 2004 to 2012, follows a group of con artists in London led by Mickey Stone (played by Adrian Lester) who pull off a string of complicated stings.