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Crooks stole pin numbers from elderly; Romanian gang targeted Aldi and Lidl.

IT was a simple but very profitable plan that took a pair of Eastern European crooks around the continent.

But it was a theft in an Aldi supermarket in the Black Country that prompted an investigation that led to their downfall.

Leonard Velcu and his accomplice Viorel Agapie targeted the old and vulnerable throughout Europe and Scandinavia.

Today justice has caught up with Velcu, although Agapie is still at large.

The pair used a well rehearsed trick to obtain the pin numbers of elderly shoppers as they toured small supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl across Europe. By observing the pin number and then stealing their card, they managed to steal thousands of pounds in cash on their travels.

Wolverhampton Crown Court heard the Romanians struck at least 21 times throughout England, stealing PS12,000 in less than four months with a well planned scam.

They included an 84-year-old victim having PS1,700 taken from their bank account and another being followed four miles to her Kendal home before her card could be stolen.

But it was after the theft of PS500 from a card stolen from a pensioner at Aldi in Goldthorn Hill, Wolverhampton, that they were finally caught out. The theft in Wolverhampton sparked an investigation that uncovered the extent of the operation. Dc Jason Garton from Wolverhampton CID was given the job of investigating the crime. He was given details of carbon copy thefts from across the country after publicising details of the distinctive theft. He also got a tip from another force whose brief dealings with Velcu and Agapie some time ago suggested they were the likely culprits.

Dc Garton became the national lead for the whole inquiry as he gathered details of the other offences and the investigation led him to an address in Wolverhampton where Agapie was arrested in a pre planned raid on January 31.

The suspect was questioned and released on bail pending further inquiries on the orders of the Crown Prosecution Service. Days later he fled the country and is still on the loose.

Meanwhile 31-year-old Velcu had headed for Canada where he is now wanted on suspicion of having committed 100 offences.

European arrest warrants were issued for the duo, who had a narrow escape in Majorca before Velcu was arrested in Croatia on July 6 and returned to the UK 12 days later.

He has been banned from both Sweden and Denmark after serving jail sentences in each country for similar offences. He has also been caught in Spain, Italy and Holland, it was said.

Velcu, of no fixed address, admitted conspiring with others to steal between August 1 and November 30 last year and was today being sentenced by Judge Dean Kershaw.

CAPTION(S):

Aldi on Goldthorn Hill has become the centre of a Europe-wide investigation

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Publication:Express and Star (Wolverhampton, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 22, 2019
Words:467
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