FIVE men have been jailed for a total of more than 16 years for their part in a £750,000 stolen car ring.

An Essex Police operation investigated the theft of up to 70 high-value cars and Walthamstow man Joanas Bondarenko was described in court as the ring leader of the thefts.

The thefts took place in Essex and Greater London and the crimes were discovered after gang members hired an Audi A4, a Mercedes C180 and a Vauxhall Astra from hire companies at Stansted airport in April 2009. All three of these cars were not returned and were later recovered with cloned identities.

Further investigations revealed the gang, all Lithuanians, received stolen cars taken from homes across London and the Home Counties.

They specialised in handling stolen BMWs, Mercedes, Audis and top-of-the-range Volkswagens.

Krzystof Nowicki, a 38-year-old unemployed man of no fixed address and Eduadas Masiulis, 34, also unemployed, from Grays Inn Road in London, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to handle stolen vehicles earlier this year.

The remaining four defendants, 35-year-old carpenter Bondarenko, of Williams Avenue, Walthamstow; 28-year-old unemployed Vidmantas Lajauskas, of Trefgarne Road, Dagenham; 33-year-old unemployed Nerijus Jarusevicius, of Osborne Square in Dagenham; and 23-year-old builder Kamil Dudko, of Coopers Lane, Leyton, were all convicted on Thursday, June 3, following an eight-week trial at Chelmsford Crown Court.

Bondarenko was convicted in his absence, having failed to attend his trial while Dudko fled halfway through it. Police are hunting both men and their details have been circulated.

At Chelmsford Crown Court on Thursday, July 1, Bondarenko was identified as the ringleader. He was given a seven-year prison sentence.

Lajauskas and Jarusevicius were each given three-and-a-half-year prison sentences Kamil Dudko was jailed for 22-months and Nowicki was handed a one-year suspended prison sentence.

DC Jean Seager, investigating officer, said: “This was organised crime on a large scale, but the men made the mistake of linking their crime to the airport where our sophisticated security systems proved to be their undoing.

"The high level of security around UK airports meant that we had access to information and databases and were able to identify vehicles and bank accounts that led us to arrest all six men.”

The crimes were detected because of enhanced security arrangements surrounding Stansted Airport and officers were able to interrogate information captured on security databases at the airport which enabled them to identify vehicles and bank accounts that led to the arrests.

Anil Patani, Crown Prosecution Service prosecutor, said: “These men would specifically target high-value vehicles and in quick time would change their identity and sell them on.

"Using this method they have been able to obtain what looks like valid paperwork for the vehicles so they can advertise them without being noticed.

"They have intentionally and repeatedly manipulated innocent members of the public for their own financial gain.

"We are pleased that this case has been brought to a successful conclusion and that these men will no longer be able to carry out their criminal activity.

"We hope that all those targeted by this gang can put this behind them and we would like to take this opportunity to thank them for coming forward and assisting the prosecution.”

Masiulis was due to be sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court on yesterday but sentencing has been postponed to a later date.