A couple who preyed on vulnerable Slovakian men, trafficking them to the UK to work as modern-day “slaves” in their car wash business, were handed hefty prison sentences Wednesday.
Marcos Tancos, 45, and Joanna Gomulska, 46, spent most of the money they earned from their human trafficking operations on gambling, prosecutors said. They recruited their 42 victims from care homes and orphanages in Slovakia, promising them lucrative work and a better life in the UK, according to court documents.
But the men were forced to work for nothing at Tancos’ car wash in Bristol, England, and at other menial jobs for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. On arrival, their identity documents, bank cards, and phones were confiscated. They were locked in cramped, filthy conditions, sleeping on dirty bedding and mattresses.
Treated ‘Like Cattle’
The couple coerced the men into opening new bank accounts, which they used to apply for loans and credit cards in their victims’ names. The defendants obtained around £300,000 ($368,000) in this way, which they splurged at gaming tables and loaded onto online casinos.
Prosecutors said Tancos would physically and verbally abuse the men into submission. Meanwhile, Gomuslka would pretend to be looking out for their interests. But this was all for show, said Judge Martin Picton.
You gave the appearance of having some insight and some sympathy, but your experience did not deter you from supporting your partner in what you knew full well was a criminal enterprise,” he told Gomuslka. “You had choices and you made the wrong ones.
“You identified potential victims by reference to their circumstances, their financial and social vulnerability – people with little by way of alternative,” he said, addressing both defendants.
“The victims had cash value to you in the same way cattle would to a farmer,” he added.
Could be More Victims
In April, a jury in Bristol Crown Court convicted the couple of nine charges related to human trafficking and forced labor, and one count of conspiracy to acquire criminal property. On Wednesday, Picton sentenced Tancos and Gomulska to 16 years and nine years, respectively.
The UK’s National Crime Agency was alerted to the situation after a victim managed to return to Slovakia and inform authorities there of the couple’s activities.
UK and Slovakian law enforcement tracked down 42 victims, 29 of whom were prepared to give evidence. Police believe there could be many more victims whom they have been unable to trace.
“Gaining the victims’ confidence has been fundamental to this case, and a significant amount of work went in to caring for, and engaging with them, throughout the process,” said chief prosecutor, Ruona Iguyovwe, in a statement. “I commend every person who testified for their bravery.”
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