Two men who went on a day-long crime spree targeting victims across a 75 mile area have been jailed at Lincoln Crown Court.
Costel Copalea and his accomplice Marius Stanescu carried out distraction thefts targeting victims in Cambridge, Corby, Collyweston, Stamford, Toft, and Bourne before they finished up at Sleaford.
Andrew Howarth, prosecuting, told the court: “This was a persistent campaign by both defendants to carry out distraction thefts principally in order to steal mobile phones from both adults and children.
“In fact only three mobile phones were stolen but the pair of them were persistent in their targeting.”
Mr Howarth said the first offence carried out by the pair was in Cambridge. They visited a hall of residence at Clare College in the city where a member of the College staff was distracted and his phone was stolen.
The defendants then drove on to Corby where they stole another phone after distracting their victims who were eating a pub lunch.
Copalea and Stanescu continued driving north and next turned up at the Collyweston Slater pub in the village of Collyweston near Stamford.
Mr Howarth said: “They were seen on CCTV attempting to distract the bar staff. Copalea was looking behind the bar as staff moved away.”
Nothing was stolen and a further attempt at a distraction theft was made at the village shop.
The two men then went into Stamford where they targeted the Welland School of Dancing while lessons were being held in the building.
They were let in after persistently buzzing the entry bell and once inside Stanescu went into the girls’ changing rooms where he was caught going through bags.
He was seen with an I-phone but it was grabbed from him by a parent and the two left the building. Other incidents took place at the George Hotel and at a beauty salon in the town.
Mr Howarth said there was a further incident at the Toft Hotel in Toft, where they were asked to leave after being challenged by staff, who found them in the chef’s office in a private area of the premises.
Copalea and Stanescu then drove on to Bourne where they approached two 12-year-old boys outside the Londis shop in Churchill Avenue. They drove off when a customer of the shop intervened and then reported the matter to police.
Just before 8pm the men arrived at the McDonald’s in Sleaford where they sat down amongst a group of 15-year-old girls. Stanescu made sexually suggestive comments and asked for a kiss off one of the girls who rejected his advances.
They then tried to steal mobile phones by distracting the teenagers before an adult customer came over to the group and the men left.
After a further incident at a dental practice in Sleaford the pair drove off, but police tracked down their vehicle using information from ANPR cameras and they were arrested the following day in Northamptonshire.
The court was told that Copalea had past convictions across Europe for dishonesty offences including in Italy, Belgium, Germany and France. Stanescu had previous convictions in Spain and Italy.
Costel Copalea, 20, and Marius Stanescu,21, both of Manford Way, Chigwell, Essex, each admitted a charge of conspiracy to steal as a result of the incidents on July 15. Copalea also asked for two offences of distraction theft committed on July 9 to be taken into consideration.
They were each jailed for 32 months and are likely to face deportation. The Rover 75 car they used during the offences was confiscated.
Judge Simon Hirst told them: “There was significant planning and you acted as a team. One of you attempted to distract often vulnerable people while the other stole or attempted to steal. You chose people you thought to be vulnerable and there was an element of intimidation.”
Dhaneshwar Sharma, in mitigation, said both defendants were relatively young and had come to the UK looking for work.
“In reality there was not a great deal stolen but it was a persistent effort on their part.”
He said they admitted the offences and added: “Both have asked me to apologise to the victims.”