An Eastern European couple have been convicted of running a human trafficking network, tricking dozens of people into modern slavery, forcing them to work in a car wash in Bristol without pay.
The National Crime Agency rescued five men, who were being kept in cramped and unacceptable conditions, and were often physically abused.
Maros Tancos, 45 and Joanna Gomulska, 46, recruited 29 vulnerable people from Slovakia and Hungary, targeting those who were often raised in orphanages or living in camps.
They were promised transport to the UK, accomodation and food.
Victims were told they could keep half their wages each month, with the other half used to fund their rent and board.
In reality, the victims received no money, as Tancos, originally from Slovakia and Gomulska, from Poland, spent their earnings on cars and gambling.
On arrival in the UK, the couple took their victims’ identity documents and phones, leaving them unable to travel independently or leave the country.
The victims were required to work for the couple’s car wash business in Bristol during the day and at in other jobs at night.
Bristol Crown Court was told that Tancos and Gomulska kept all of their victims’ bank cards.
They would also take them to open bank accounts, and apply for loans or credit cards in their names.
Prosecutors said that between 2010 and 2017, almost £300,000 was transferred from their accounts.
Those trafficked to the couple’s property in Bristol, described living with ten people a time in a three bedroom home, sharing one bathroom and sleeping on dirty mattresses.
The couple would lock their victims in the house when they were out.
Victims told investigators that, even if the door was unlocked, they felt they could not leave due to the level of control the traffickers had over them.
In statements, they described their time with the defendants as ‘catastrophic’ and said they were humiliated, hit and punished by Tancos.
Another described returning to Slovakia when she fell pregnant, with her child being born malnourished and suffering epileptic fits, because she had no money to bring back from the UK for food.
Tancos and Gomulska made their victims work under any circumstances. One described an occasion where he broke his arm and had it set in a cast at hospital. They still made him continue to work in the car wash.
The National Crime Agency’s Branch Commander Colin Williams said:
“Tancos and Gomulska treated their victims as possessions, exploiting their hope of a better life for themselves and their families to keep them in a never ending cycle of abuse. They were prisoners. The experiences they shared in court showed how mentally broken the couple left them.
“These people came from impoverished backgrounds to the UK with optimism, but instead had their vulnerability taken advantage of. Whilst they suffered, Tancos and Gomulska spent their victims’ wages on gambling and cars.
“The support from our international partners in Slovakia was pivotal in being able to trace victims who had returned home and meant they could give evidence via video links detailing the couple’s abhorrent behaviour dating back to 2008.
“Tackling human trafficking is one of our highest priorities, and we will continue to work with partners to pursue offenders and protect victims.”
The couple were arrested on suspicion of modern slavery and human trafficking offences in July 2017.
Both denied their involvement but following a trial spanning almost three months, including evidence from 15 victims, they were convicted by a jury today at Bristol Crown Court.
The NCA launched a new campaign recently urging people to think about where they spend their money, to help avoid inadvertently supporting modern slavery.
Car washes, nail bars, takeaway restaurants and doorstep services, like driveway installers, cleaners or gardeners, can often be disguising illegal labour practices and the exploitation of workers.
Maros Tancos Joanna Gomulska will be sentenced on 26 May.