Farmer Michael Wilmot jailed over red diesel fraud in Lincolnshire
A farmer described as the leader of a gang that organised and ran a "sophisticated" fuel and VAT tax fraud has been jailed.
Michael Wilmot, 72, from Osgodby, near Market Rasen, was described in court as the "controller" of the gang which evaded millions in duty and tax.
HM Revenue and Customs inspectors found he had supplied rebated fuel, known as red diesel, to 35 HGV firms.
Wilmot was sentenced to seven years in prison.
He was convicted of conspiracy to evade paying excise duty on government-subsidised fuels and conspiracy to cheat Her Majesty's Revenue.
York Crown Court heard Wilmot used his connections to a buying consortium in Louth to secure the fuel.
Inspectors also discovered a factory where false fuel tanks were being manufactured and fitted to lorries.
It is estimated that around 1.5 million litres of rebated fuel was involved, with a duty and tax loss of £750,000, over a six-year period - up to 2012.
Wilmot also charged customers VAT for services and was "simply pocketing the cash", which equated to a loss of about £3.5m, officials said.
Former Market Rasen councillor David Strachan, 50, of King Street, Market Rasen, who resigned after he was convicted of conspiracy to evade payment, was handed a two-year sentence for his part in the operation.
Tracie Morton, 50, of Toft Next Newton, described in court as Wilmot's "right-hand woman", received a four-and-a-half year jail term for conspiracy to evade payment and conspiracy to cheat Her Majesty's Revenue.
Driver Michael Taylor, 38, of Waterloo Street, Market Rasen, was jailed for four years for the same offences.
John Raithby, 59, a company director from Waddingham, received 18 months for evading payment of VAT.
Rachel Hughes, from Lincolnshire Police, said: "When we started our investigation we thought it was going to be a fairly small operation locally - we had no concept of what was to come."
"We were amazed at the scale of what was revealed," she added.