On January 18th 2019, Leonardo Viscomi (61), was prosecuted at Lincoln Crown Court for two offences of knowing or suspecting that his property, European Foods in Lincoln, was being used for criminal activity, notably the sale of illicit tobacco and alcohol.
Judge Watson, who presided over the case, said it was clear Mr Viscomi knew of the criminal activity taking place at his premises because he had been specifically told by Trading Standards. He had received lots of correspondence, which detailed the activity and the pitfalls of continuing to accept rent payments.
With this in mind, and although meeting the custody threshold and pleading guilty, he handed Mr Viscomi a suspended sentence and 150 hours unpaid work. A timetable has been set for a confiscation hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act. It is intended that some, or all, of the rent Viscomi received over the previous six years be subject to confiscation.
Andy Wright, Principal Trading Standards officer at Lincolnshire County Council, commented: “This is the first prosecution of its type in the country. I am pleased that this has now provided a model for an enforcement strategy, not only in Lincolnshire, but across the East Midlands region.
“For many years Trading Standards have been taking prosecutions against those running businesses with limited success. As in the Viscomi case, there always appears to be someone willing to take over the lease with little change in the type of goods sold. I envisage prosecution of the primary offender will continue; however, detailed information will also be sent to the owner of the building who receives rent from those tenants. I hope that by working together with landlords we can make a lasting difference.”
From 2011 onwards, Lincolnshire Trading Standards Service conducted numerous raids at the property owned by Viscomi. Large quantities of illicit tobacco were seized over the period and those responsible for the running of the businesses prosecuted. Nevertheless illicit tobacco continued to be sold from the premises.
“Initially, it was never our intention to prosecute Mr Viscomi,” said Wright. “He is a man of previous good character, so we tried really hard, over a number of years, to give him detailed advice and information about what was happening in his building and the likely consequences if he continued to take rent payments. It is very unfortunate that Mr Viscomi chose not to take that advice – that decision may ultimately prove very expensive.”
Wright added: “We are aware of premises across the county which have an extensive history of criminal activity involving illicit cigarettes and alcohol. Some of those landlords have already been contacted. It is our intention that all will be made aware of what is happening at their premises in the same way as we did with Mr Viscomi.”