A thief whose case led to a senior judge warning her fellow nationals “Don’t come here” has been locked up after admitting being part of a gang of pickpockets which targeted an elderly man in Grantham and others across the Midlands.
Lincoln Crown Court heard how Nicoleta Bala acted as the bait to distract the gang’s victims. While she chatted to them, skilful pickpockets relieved them of their bank and credit cards having already obtained the PIN numbers from watching them carry out transactions.
Bala carried out her crimes back in 2008 but then went on the run. She returned to her home country of Romania but then, despite a warrant being out for her arrest, was twice able to come in and out of the UK without being picked up by border control staff before finally being arrested at Folkestone in May 2013.
Through her barrister Bala argued that she should escape immediate jail.
But Judge Sean Morris told her: “The public would be outraged if somebody who is part of a gang targeting elderly men did not get locked up.
“You are an attractive young lady who played the part of the polite, pleasant, innocent who would engage the victims in conversation whilst they were being fleeced without their knowledge.
“Other young attractive women thinking of getting involved in gangs like this now will know where it leads. Babies or no babies.
“This was sophisticated thieving. It was professional crime.”
Bala, who lives in Leicester, admitted two offences of distraction crimes committed in Grantham and Stoke-on-Trent in November 2008. She was jailed for nine months.
James Varley, prosecuting, told Lincoln Crown Court that both victims were targeted because they were seen as vulnerable elderly men. Since the thefts took place both men have passed away.
Initially the gang travelled to Stoke-on-Trent where they targeted 82-year-old Harold Machin after spotting him using his credit card to pay for shopping at a local supermarket.
One of the gang obtained his PIN number from watching him using his card and moments later he was distracted and his credit card was taken.
The card was used just two hours later to buy £59 worth of fuel from a filling station at Shepshed, Leicestershire.
The following day the gang hit on another 82-year-old man as he shopped in an Argos store in Grantham. Having watched him use his card the gang of five distracted him before he even left the shop and stole his card.
Within minutes the card was used to remove £450 from a cashpoint machine but they were interrupted by police. Bala was arrested after she was found sitting in their getaway car.
She denied any knowledge of what was going on, claiming she believed they were going on a legitimate shopping spree.
Paul Prior, defending, said Bala arrived in the UK in 2008 hoping to find work but struggled to get employment.
He said: “She ended up in a position where she was almost destitute and made a very foolish decision to become part of this group. Her part was the distraction.
“She has made positive and significant changes to her lifestyle. She has now had a child. She has a loving family built around a home with a partner who works and is devoted to her and they are bringing up the child together.”
He said Bala had not committed any further offences and has expressed remorse for what she did.
Bala’s sentence was due to take place in December but the case was delayed because the Romanian authorities failed to provide details of any previous criminal convictions. The information subsequently arrived showing she had no previous offences in her home country.
At the time Judge Morris expressed his frustration at having waited three months for the information to arrive and said: “I do not deal with foreign criminals without knowing whether they have been in trouble in their own country.
“If the fact is that people come over here from Romania to commit crime they cannot complain.
“The message can go out that I will not deal with these people until I have full knowledge about their background and that means that there will be Romanians who commit crime here and are left languishing in prison awaiting the confirmation of their previous convictions. The lesson is don’t come here and commit crime.”