The illegal stash formed the basis of a court case brought by Lincolnshire Trading Standards against the owner of the car, Kamal Morad, 44, of Canal Street, Derby.
Morad claimed the cigarettes – 71,780 in all – belonged to a man he had picked up at the side of the road in Grantham on his way to Boston.
He said he did not know who the man was, had no contact details for him, and had dropped him off somewhere in Boston before continuing to the garden centre where he was found with the cigarettes.
At Lincoln Magistrates Court on March 31, Morad was found guilty of four charges relating to the discovery in the car park at Johnsons Garden Centre (as it was then), in Wainfleet Road, on October 2, 2019: one charge of acquiring, using, or having possession of criminal property, namely 71,780 illicit cigarettes; and three charges relating to the cigarette packaging, two over-missing health warnings and one over the colour and shape.
Morad was handed a 12-month community order for 300 hours of unpaid work, and ordered to pay £1,400 towards the costs of the case and a victim surcharge of £90. The cigarettes will be destroyed.
The chairman of the magistrates said that he found it unbelievable that an unknown person would entrust around £15,000 worth of cigarettes to someone they did not know, without plans to later pick them up or deliver them, a spokesman for Lincolnshire Trading Standards said.
He noted that the seats were all laid flat in the rear of the vehicle and the boxes were partially open, so they would have easily been seen, the spokesman added.
Andy Wright, of Lincolnshire Trading Standards, said: “We came across Mr Morad at a hand carwash in a car park outside a garden centre in Boston during a joint operation with the police, immigration, and labour abuse officers.
“He claimed to have driven from his home in Derby to Boston that morning, picking up his unknown passenger en-route.
“It was clear the cigarettes were destined for retail in Boston and neither we, nor the magistrates, believed his story for one minute.”
Lincolnshire Trading Standard says it is committed to cracking down on counterfeit cigarettes in the county. Anyone with information, is urged to call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or report online at crimestoppers-uk.org