A man and woman from Luton have both been sentenced to six years in prison for smuggling illegal immigrants into the country.
Eduart Lleshi, 34, from Curzon Road, and Katarzyna Kopec, 36, from Tythe Road, pleaded guilty to assisting in unlawful immigration into a member state and were jailed at Luton Crown Court on Monday, September 4.
The pair ran a highly organised money-making operation smuggling Albanians into the United Kingdom illegally.
When handing out the sentences, the judge remarked that it was his public duty to send a message to other people smugglers that they will face very substantial sentences when they are caught.
Lleshi and Kopec would arrange for Albanians wishing to move illegally to the UK to be picked up from Belgium by Czech lorry drivers, who would then smuggle them into the county hidden within concealments within the lorry cab.
They charged around £6,000 for each immigrant.
An investigation by the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) identified 17 Albanians illegally smuggled into the UK between January and March 2015.
Further investigation uncovered evidence of numerous smuggling trips, dating back to 2014.
Detective Inspector Trevor Davidson, from ERSOU, said: “Lleshi and Kopec organised the smuggling of illegal immigrants into the country for their own financial gain.
“Although they may not have been the people who physically brought the immigrants to the UK, they were the ringleaders of this complex operation and were therefore directly responsible for many people being illegally smuggled into the country.
“We will take a hard line against organised criminals who seek to exploit others and I’m pleased with the lengthy custodial sentences that have been handed out in support of this.”
As part of the operation, three Czech lorry drivers were also arrested and prosecuted.
Two people from Luton and one person from London were also handed suspended prison sentences for their part in collecting the immigrants from the Czech drivers once in the UK.