Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Cigarette Murder

It can be a little disconcerting when you pass the scene of a heinous crime, and you will spend time trying to picture just what took place at that scene.  About fifteen or sixteen years ago, I was with some people from Leyland in Lancashire.  We were driving through a picturesque village called Brinscall, when Stephen asked me, "Have you ever heard of the cigarette murder?"  "Funny you should say that, Stephen, I am reading a book that deals with it."   "Hold on," he said , "the house is coming up" and with that he pointed to a very cosy looking house.  So just what was the cigarette murder?

    This harsh tale began in 1990, when a man named David Wilson became involved with Colonel Hector Portillo of the Mexican Army.  In reality, Portillo was really a conman named Michael Sporn, born in New York in 1955.  Sporn had over the years ran scams involving alcohol, gold and other commodities, but a ready made market to reap in countless millions involved the sale of black market cigarettes.  Mainly Marlboro cigarettes.  Wilson was not an accountant, but helped some people with taxes, sending money abroad, and various other fiddles.  Some of these people were criminals and as Sporn was looking for somebody to help him acquire a ship to carry out the scam, he and Wilson were introduced.

    Sporn, or Portillo, let it be known that through his military connections that some factories in Mexico were churning out unofficial Marlboro cigarettes. In total, he had one hundred containers of cigarettes, amounting to virtually one billion cigarettes, ready to be shipped and sold around the world.  This attracted many agents looking for investors, and it was generally accepted that the phantom cargo of one hundred containers had been sold as many as five times over.  Portillo needed plenty of genuine paperwork to show that the cargo existed, was waiting in certain ports awaiting transportation, and the ship had picked up the cargo.  Portillo had no problems acquiring his paperwork, with both forgeries and genuine certificates.   Portillo and Wilson bought a ship and that was sent to pick up the cigarettes.  Everything seemed hunky dory.

    Unknown to Wilson, Portillo ended up using paperwork for at least six different ships supposedly transporting the cargo around the world.  Wilson showed copies of the paperwork to a maritime expert who quickly pointed out that it was a scam.  Wilson then tried to put a stop to it, informing numerous people that the cargo did not exist.  Certain people were very quickly annoyed with Wilson.  This scam was worth hundreds of millions.  In March 1992, two men burst into his Lancashire home, took him into the garage and cold-bloodedly executed him.  The murder of David Wilson brought the scam crashing down with Lancashire Police running a massive international enquiry.

    In 1993, Stephen Schepke was jailed for life at Carlisle Crown Court.  He had a private detective keep Wilson under surveillance and passed his details on to Sporn or Austin as he also became known as, was extradited to Britain and tried at Liverpool Crown Court.  He was found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of twenty years.