Two Romanian pickpockets who travelled to Britain to steal thousands of pounds worth of mobile smart phones in distraction thefts at bars, restaurants and cafes were jailed today.
Father-of-seven Ciprian Danila, 28, and 33-year old Vasile Bancuta would target victims by placing pieces of laminated cards in front of their faces before trying to engage then in ‘nonsensical’ conversation.
The thefts took place between January 5 and 14 this year in Manchester city centre and its neighbouring suburbs when the victims were enjoying drinks or food at premises including branches of Costa Coffee and Starbucks, plus pubs and restaurants.
Whilst diners became distracted by the sight of the cards which had foreign writing on them and irritated by the unwelcome interruptions, Danila and Bancuta would use the laminated leaflets as makeshift screens to secretly sweep victims’ phones from tables into their own pockets.
They then fled into the street before the thefts were discovered.
Vasile Bancuta, 33, snatched five devices worth in total £6,300 and was found in possession of £1,150 in cash when he was detained. He pleaded guilty to five thefts and money laundering
Father-of-seven Ciprian Danila, 28, stole 16 devices worth up to £1,400 each and admitted 16 charges of theft totalling £10,000
Danila and Bancuta from the city of Braila, East Romania were arrested at their digs in Liverpool on January 24 this year following a joint police operation by the Greater Manchester and Merseyside forces.
At least 21 phones were stolen in just nine days during the crime spree with only one device being recovered by its owner who used the app Find My iPhone to track it down.
How the devious phone con worked
- The pair would walk up to a table armed with laminated pieces of paper covered in foreign writing
- They would engage with their victims in nonsensical conversation
- While the restaurant-goers were distracted the paper would be put over their phone
- When the innocent diner would refuses to chat, the theives would pick up the paper – along with the phone – and run for it before the missing device was noticed
Inquiries revealed the two men had used similar distraction thefts and EU freedom of movement rules to steal mobiles in other European countries including Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic and Portugal where the modus operandi for their crimes is more well known.
In the latest spate of offending Danila stole 16 devices worth up to £1,400 each whilst Bancuta snatched five devices worth in total £6,300.
All but one were sold on the black market with Bancuta being found in possession of £1,150 in cash when he was detained.
At Manchester Crown Court the two men were each jailed for 16 months after Danila admitted 16 charges of theft totalling £10,000 and Bancuta pleaded guilty to five thefts and money laundering.
Both were also issued with Criminal Behaviour Orders for five years which will ban them from taking newspapers or pieces of card into bars, cafes and restaurants across the UK.
The two men will now face deportation after their release at their own request. A 46-year-old man was arrested during the police operation but was later freed without charge.
Sentencing Danila and Bancuta, the judge Mr Recorder Imran Shafi KC said: ‘This was a concerted campaign of offending.
‘Not only is there a financial loss to the victims but there is also the incredible inconvenience in not having your phone which it seems everyone is wholly reliant on these days – whether that be to assist with personal commitments or professional business.
Bancuta (pictured) had two convictions in 2013 for theft in Spain where he got suspended sentences. In 2015 he was convicted of possessing an offensive weapon in Portugal and was convicted of dangerous driving in 2017 before being jailed for 20 months there in 2019 for theft
In 2016 Danila (pictured) was convicted of theft in the Czech Republic for which he was jailed for two and a half years. In 2020 he was convicted of theft in Germany and was jailed for ten months and was then fined there again last year for a similar offence
‘In addition these phones will hold sentimental value due to pictures being on them and perhaps there might be private content on them too which the owners would not want sharing.’
The judge added: ‘There was some planning and sophistication into this simple and straight forward confidence trick and was one which it seems was incredibly enterprising and effective for you.
‘It is clear you both knew what you were doing.
‘You would enter a busy bar or cafe, and you would walk to the victims’ table, place laminated pieces of paper with foreign writing on it in front of the victims and engage in spurious or even nonsensical conversation with them.
‘Whilst the victims were distracted by what you were attempting to say to them, you placed the laminated paper on top of the phone. Naturally, and as you well desired, when they refused to engage with you, you would pick up the laminated paper and walk out.
‘No doubt the victims would have been thankful you had left them alone – but they would not have been thankful about losing their phones. These were all smart phones of some value.
‘It was planned, persistent, pernicious targeting of people enjoying themselves. It is plain to me you are both thoroughly dishonest individuals and there is no real remorse from either of you. Any remorse would be arising from the fact you were caught.
‘I note your claim your families will face hardship due to your incarceration in this country but any misfortune visited upon your families is at your own hands – and not the fault of anybody else.’
The two men will now face deportation after their release at their own request. A 46-year-old man was arrested during the police operation but was later freed without charge Pictured: Bancuta
Danila, pictured, who wept during the hearing, had a previous conviction for an identical theft in the UK in 2020 for which he received a community order
In mitigation defence counsel Mr Raj Chopra said both men had ‘sad backgrounds’ and their families would suffer as a result of them being locked up in the UK. He claimed Danila had merely come to the UK to visit friends but got involved in the thefts whilst in drink
Miss Kate Gaskell prosecuting said: ‘All incidents were identical and were captured on CCTV and apart from one phone tracked down by the victim himself, none of the devices were recovered.
‘Clothing matching those worn by the thieves were found at the defendants’ address on their arrest.
‘Danila matched the man in the CCTV stills whilst Bancuta was found in possession of a piece of paper in a plastic wallet with foreign language writing on it.
‘He also had a quantity of cash in his pocket and he matched CCTV footage in other similar thefts. Both answered no comment in police interview.’
Danila, who wept during the hearing, had a previous conviction for an identical theft in the UK in 2020 for which he received a community order.
In 2016 he was convicted of theft in the Czech Republic for which he was jailed for two and a half years. In 2020 he was convicted of theft in Germany and was jailed for ten months and was then fined there again last year for a similar offence.
Bancuta had two convictions in 2013 for theft in Spain where he got suspended sentences. In 2015 he was convicted of possessing an offensive weapon in Portugal and was convicted of dangerous driving in 2017 before being jailed for 20 months there in 2019 for theft.
In mitigation defence counsel Mr Raj Chopra said both men had ‘sad backgrounds’ and their families would suffer as a result of them being locked up in the UK. He claimed Danila had merely come to the UK to visit friends but got involved in the thefts whilst in drink.
At the time of the arrests, Insp Phil Marsh of Greater Manchester Police said: ‘We would urge members of the public to continue to assist where possible by remaining vigilant and securing their personal belongings.’
Source : https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12015061/Romanian-pickpockets-travelled-UK-steal-mobile-phones-devious-trick-jailed.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ito=1490&ns_campaign=1490&rand=1270