Five members of a Romanian burglary gang directed by crime bosses in their homeland to steal gold, cash and high-end watches in a string of raids at luxury homes have been jailed for between four and eight years each.

Catalin Zaharia, Constantin Stoian, Marian Molocia, Daniel Stoean and Florina Spiru – Zaharia’s wife – admitted conspiracy charges after the discovery of the “Aladdin’s cave” of stolen items connected to an £845,000 burglary spree.

A court heard they took advantage of the dark British winter nights to raid homes for jewellery and other valuables such as designer watches over a three year period.

In total, they struck at 76 posh residential homes across the West Midlands, West Mercia, Staffordshire and Gloucestershire from 2015 to December 10 last year.

A sentencing hearing at Birmingham Crown Court was told the haul found at Spiru, Zaharia and Stoean’s home in McKean Road, Oldbury, West Midlands, included a Krugerrand collection, Breitling watches and jewellery stashed in a pink Adidas handbag..

The court also heard two of the gang were caught on CCTV in Birmingham using bed sheets to climb into a home and then lower a safe to the ground.

Around £15,000 of damage was caused to another property, where £45,000 worth of possessions and keys to 40 rental properties were taken, while details of stolen items were reported back to Romania via WhatsApp messages.

Police believe around 400 break-ins may have been linked to gang members who flew into the UK from Romania to commit “seasonal” offences in affluent areas on the wider West Midlands between 2014 and the end of last year.

Opening the case against the five defendants on Tuesday, prosecutor Graham Russell said several others were thought to have been involved in burglaries targeting properties via upstairs windows between 2015 and 2018.

Explaining how a total of 76 properties were targeted, Mr Russell told the court: “This was an organised criminal conspiracy to burgle with an international dimension.

“Not all of those burglaries are immediately referable to the conspirators in the dock – there were two other individuals who fled the jurisdiction before these defendants were arrested.”

After describing how a gold purity tester was found at the property in Oldbury last December, Mr Russell said of the items recovered: “I hope I don’t exaggerate when I say it was an Aladdin’s cave of stolen jewellery, some hidden in a handbag.

“Their target was invariably jewellery and cash of high value and the destination of the stolen jewellery was Romania.

“It was a well-organised and professional operation and this conspiracy appears on the evidence to have been directed from Romania. The guiding minds of this conspiracy were abroad.”

Stoian and Zaharia, both aged 30, Molocia, 27, Stoean, 35, and 28-year-old Spiru will now face a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing after being jailed.

Zaharia, who admitted conspiracy to commit burglary in relation to eight offences, was jailed for eight years after Judge Murray Creed described him as being at the “head of the pyramid” for the gang in the UK.

Spiru, who was found guilty of money laundering after being accused of selling jewellery and disposing of cash, was jailed for four-and-a-half years.

The remaining defendants all admitted conspiracy to burgle.

Married father-of-two Stoian, of Smethwick, West Midlands, took part in three burglaries of unoccupied homes over a period of ten days while under pressure from other gang members. He was handed a four-year custodial term.

Molocia, also living in Smethwick, participated in ten break-ins and was jailed for six years and four months.

Stoean, who was involved in two offences of burglary committed with others, received a four-year sentence.

Passing sentence, Judge Murray Creed said of the conspiracy: “It had an international perspective – the court has heard about trips to Romania but there was also money laundering which involved countries as far apart as India and Spain.

“The lifestyle that you Zaharia and your partner Spiru followed could be seen in the pictures on Instagram and elsewhere – the shoes filled with money in somebody’s bedroom.”

Adding that the gang had caused untold misery, Judge Creed said it was up to other agencies to decide whether deportation proceedings would follow the prison terms.

Commenting after the sentencing, West Midlands Police Sergeant Sandy Thompson, who helped to lead the investigation, said: “This was a challenging investigation as none of the five were on the radar of law enforcement in the UK until Zaharia was arrested in autumn 2017. That helped us link him to several burglaries and begin to understand the extent of the burglary conspiracy and the others involved.

“We suspect other people from Romania were also involved in the plot and we are working with the Romania authorities in a bid to bring others to justice.”