Shop scam accused banned from major retailers

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A Romanian man accused of targeting shops in a sleight of hand scam is banned from three major retailers across Northern Ireland, a High Court judge has ordered.

Iocuta Isfa, 38, was prohibited from entering any branches of Marks & Spencer, B&Q and Sainsbury’s as part of conditions under which he was granted bail.

Prosecutors claimed he was part of a two-man team who travelled up from the Republic to target stores in the Newry and Lisburn areas last month.

Although he has no criminal record in either jurisdiction, gardai were said to have eight different aliases for him.

Isfa, of Pound Street in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, denies three counts of fraud by false representation and a further charge of burglary.

Crown lawyer Robin Steer said two men deployed the money-changing scam at the Buttercrane and Sprucefield shopping centres on December 14 and 28.

Staff in the stores would be asked to exchange £20 notes for two at £10, and then again for £5 notes, the court heard.

“By sleight of hand some of the notes would be removed as they were being exchanged by staff members,” according to Mr Steer.

“Each time this applicant was standing two or three feet away, he appeared to be keeping watch.”

Cash amounts of up to £100 were taken in each incident, it was alleged.

The prosecutor also claimed £680 was snatched from a till at Marks & Spencer in Lisburn’s Bow Street Mall.

Following his arrest Isfa denied all knowledge of the frauds, claiming he was at a doctor’s appointment on one of the days in question – an alibi Mr Steer described as “slightly vague”.

Defence counsel Barry Gibson stressed his client was willing to live at an address in Belfast, with relatives prepared to put up money to secure his release.

Granting bail on those terms, Mr Justice Colton directed that a £400 cash surety must be lodged.

Ordering Isfa to remain in Northern Ireland, the judge confirmed: “He is not to enter any Sainsbury’s, B&Q or Marks & Spencer while on bail.”