Slovakian family organised crime gang jailed for modern day slavery
A Slovakian family who traded in human misery for over a decade has been jailed for 30 years.
The family of five from the Michalovce region, in Slovakia, lured vulnerable and often homeless fellow Eastern Europeans to Britain with the promise of a job, accommodation and a better life. But the reality was sharing rooms with up to 15 other people and working at least 12 hours a day, six days a week, mostly in restaurants, for just £20 a week.
They were told that other earnings were being saved for them, but few saw any returns, and some had their ID papers taken from them.
Feeling trapped because of their lack of finances and with no English language, they endured psychological and sometimes physical abuse from their gang masters, who transported them to and from their place of work.
The operation came to light after two victims went to a charity and said they were being exploited and then a separate complaint was received and links were made to a house in Antrobus Road, Handsworth. A covert surveillance operation was set up which revealed multiple occupants of the address being collected in the morning and brought back late at night, by the same men in different vehicles.
The same men were also found to have flown out of England alone and returned accompanied by different people. Investigations into these activities found evidence that this had been happening since 2008.
In August 2017, warrants were executed at the property in Antrobus Road and four restaurants across the West Midlands. Twenty men, mainly from Slovakia and Romania, were found to be living in poor conditions. They were immediately safeguarded.
Gejza Demeter and his wife Andrea Demeterova were arrested on suspicion of slavery offences, and their property was searched and items, including electronic devices, were seized for investigation.
The pair were released on police bail as detectives continued their investigation and took statements from the victims who were referred to the NRM (National Referral Mechanism) which ensures they receive appropriate ongoing support.
Detectives then joined forces with Slovakian authorities, overseen at Eurojust in The Hague, to commence a joint investigation into the organised crime family, enabling both authorities to share information and to build evidence of the extent of the operation.
Andrea Demeterova’s mother, Zdenka Ferencova, was head of the family and part of ‘the business’ which also included her son, Pavol Ferenc, and his wife, Klaudia Ferencova. Each had been involved in ‘recruiting’ vulnerable workers from Eastern Europe, transporting them to the UK, putting them in accommodation in Birmingham, Gloucester, Nottingham and Derby from where they were taken to work.
Businesses had been set up as a front, including a recruitment company and a cleaning service, but these were mainly for tax evasion purposes. Evidence was also found of money laundering, crucially at least 28 cars - with a low value of around £2,000 - had been bought in the UK, but then exported to Slovakia where they were worth double that amount, and even more when broken down in to parts.
Detective Inspector Lisa Jackson explained: “We took 22 victim statements from mostly men, but some women, who had been enticed by the promise of a better life, however the reality was far different. Many shared beds, some even slept on the floor, but all had to work long hours and were paid very little. We believe there were more than 60 victims who suffered the same exploitation, but we have been unable to trace them."
One man told us: “There were seven people in our bedroom, some of us even slept on the floor. There were about 50 people in the house with one toilet and one bathroom. Immediately after my arrival, my ID documents were taken by them and not returned. I worked together with others in different restaurants from the morning until the evening, six days a week. We could not go anywhere - this wasn’t a life.
“We had one day off during the week and even then, we had to work in the house where we were staying. For the weeks’ work, we got paid £20 and some of the people did not even get that. I got up at 5am in the morning, by 6am I was in the restaurant. The restaurant closed at 10pm but we would have to stay to wash and tidy up. Then, we returned home, went to sleep and the same thing happened the following day. It was a very hard life."
Gejza Demeter and his wife Andrea Demeterova had skipped bail and returned to Slovakia, but we continued to work closely with the Slovakian authorities and Eurojust to bring charges against all of the suspects.
And on 4 September 2019 we, along with the support of other European countries, executed European Arrest Warrants simultaneously in Slovakia, Germany and the Netherlands, from a co-ordination centre in The Hague. Within a 20 minute period all five suspects were arrested and taken into custody. They were extradited back to the UK between November and December 2019.
A trial was set for May 2020, and delayed until October 2020 due to the pandemic, however with the weight of evidence against them the defendants submitted pleas for consideration, which after deliberation, were accepted earlier this year. All five were sentenced as follows:
- Gejza Demeter, aged 53, sentenced to eight years in prison for: Conspiracy to traffick into UK for exploitation, conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel with view to exploitation, conspiracy to require another to perform forced compulsory labour, conspiracy to control another for purpose of labour exploitation and conspiracy to remove criminal property from England and Wales.
- Andrea Demeterova, aged 49, sentenced to six and a half years in prison for conspiracy to traffick into UK for exploitation, conspiracy to traffick within the UK for exploitation, conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel with view to exploitation.
- Pavol Ferenc, aged 48, sentenced to six and a half years in prison for: Conspiracy to traffick into UK for exploitation, conspiracy to traffick within the UK for exploitation, conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel with view to exploitation.
- Klaudia Ferencova, aged 41, sentenced to five years in prison for: Conspiracy to traffick into UK for exploitation, conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel with view to exploitation.
- Zdenka Ferencova, aged 68, sentenced to four years in prison for Conspiracy to traffick into UK for exploitation, conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel with view to exploitation, conspiracy to control another for purpose of labour exploitation.
All five were also served with slavery and trafficking preventions orders, which entitles officers to use powers to ensure they are not continuing with their criminal enterprise upon their release. It’s estimated that their enterprises had amassed them profits of almost £700,000, and that is just from the victims who spoke to us. There were many more we have been unable to trace.
We will now look to recover those proceeds of crime under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
The defendants were sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court this week concluding on Wednesday (5 May).
In summing up His Honour Judge Dean Kershaw told the defendants: “Human trafficking including the use of compulsory labour devalues the life of the people trafficked. It more often than not places people into a life of misery and extreme poverty. Meaning they are living in poor conditions, they feel trapped and they are unable to escape from a cycle of abuse. And whether you agree to it or you don’t that is what this is. It is abuse. One only has to read the victim statements to see that. You did this for one reason only - money was the only goal and is normally the only goal of those who involve themselves in this abhorrent behaviour.
“It may well be that the general public are not aware of how common this is. This type of behaviour hides in corner but at the same time is in full view of people. People do not see it because of the way that it is organised. The victims feel frightened and feel they have nowhere to go so often do not report it."
Det Insp Jackson added: "We need the public to help us stop such exploitation and safeguard and support some of the most vulnerable in our communities by reporting anything suspicious; which can help us take firm and decisive action.
"There are some tell-tale signs to look out for such as large groups staying in multi-occupancy houses and being transported to and from addresses in vans or minibuses from early in the morning and not coming back until late at night."
Anybody who suspects slavery or trafficking offences are happening in their community is urged to call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700, visit the website www.modernslaveryhelpline.org or call West Midlands Police on 101.