A THIEF who attempted to steal a plaque from the IRA bomb memorial is back in prison after taking part in an international internet scam that saw shoppers conned out of thousands of pounds.

Chester Crown Court heard on Thursday how the fraud saw more than £32,000 stolen.

Websites were used to sell discounted cameras at cheap prices, but set up so that card payments would deliberately fail.

Customers were then asked to make a bank transfer, and the money was stolen. No goods were ever provided.

Spartakas Grachauskas, aged 27, of Dudley Street, Orford, allowed his own bank account to be used to launder money from the illegal operation, the court heard. 

He was jailed for 18 weeks in May 2012 after attempting to steal a plaque that forms part of the River Of Life memorial on Bridge Street to bomb victims Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball.

Three other defendants also took part in the money laundering by allowing personal bank accounts to be used.

They were Lilija Gincman, of Howson Road, Orford;

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Rita Jablonskaite, from Stoke;

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and Aleksas Bagdonavicius from Crewe,

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All three were found guilty after trial.

Judge Roger Dutton said in making their bank accounts available the Lithuanian nationals had allowed criminals to rip off residents ‘at arm’s length’.

He branded their evidence during the trial last year as ‘ridiculous’.

Grachauskas did not turn up to the trial in December, but on arrest pleaded guilty to money laundering at what Judge Dutton called the ‘eleventh and three quarter hour’.

He allowed £4,307 to pass through his account.

Lucy O’Gara, defending, said he failed to appear at trial as he did not have money for transport.

“He was worried about financially supporting his family so he allowed his bank account to be used,” said Ms O’Gara.

“He says he was not aware of the larger scale of the operation.”

The court heard criminals who hatched the online fraud, that operated from June 5 2012 to December 1 2012, are probably based in Lithuania and have not been caught.

Customers across Europe were conned with victims reported in Greece, Germany, France and Italy.

Gincman laundered £16,695.

Judge Dutton said there was evidence to suggest she was more deeply involved in the fraud, with police finding a diary of passwords, contacts and account details at her Orford home.

The court accepted the defendants had been targeted by more ‘criminally sophisticated’ fraudsters.

Gincman, Jablonskaite and Bagdonavicius were jailed for a year for money laundering.

Grachauskas was jailed for eleven months for money laundering, and one month for breaching bail conditions.

Judge Roger Dutton slammed the deception of the defendant's during sentencing.

He said: “It’s often said the internet has changed our lives immensely over the years.

“What it has also done is open up opportunities for unscrupulous criminals to exploit unsuspecting members of the public at arm’s length, who send money off to websites in the trusting expectation they will receive the which they have paid for.

“In order to operate a criminal scam of this kind it requires criminals who are prepared to allow existing bank accounts to be used for money from the unsuspecting public to be channelled into these accounts and then, within days, the cash withdrawn and funnelled back to the criminal enterprise.

“This is the role you played.

“Without your co-operation, this fraud could not have succeeded.

“You were a highly necessary ingredient.

Judge Dutton slammed the defendants convicted at trial of attempting to lie their way out of trouble.

“The air of innocence you portrayed to the jury was clearly a facade.

“Each of you knew precisely what was going on.

“You were telling a cock and bull story that had probably been fed to you by those running this.

“The sad fact in this is that none of you realised how ridiculous those accounts were.

“Each of you came to the UK, it seems from the evidence heard, none of you can speak a word of the language and are reliant on family.

“However, you knew what bank accounts to get, and how to play your part.”