A Romanian illegal gangmaster, who trafficked and kept his victims in horrific conditions in Portadown, has been jailed for two and a half years.
Ioan Lacatus (33) had previously pleaded guilty to six charges of human trafficking and exploitation.
Craigavon Crown Court heard his victims, many of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and had limited education, worked excessive hours often without a break.
Up to 15 people shared the three bedroom house in Charles Street in Portadown and they were given very little food. It also transpired they shared one toilet and shower and often were left without toilet roll.
Judge Patrick Lynch said Lacatus, with an address in Hanover St, Portadown, was the primary organiser who was ‘greedy, ruthless and manipulative’.
Before arriving in Northern Ireland seven years ago, he had a conviction of theft in France and receiving stolen goods in Italy.
He had been on a suspended sentence here when he was arrested on human trafficking charges in October 2014.
Judge Lynch said Lacatus preyed on the vulnerability of his victims and ‘used his size and aggressive personality’ to dominate them.
The court had heard the defendant had taken almost all his victims’ wages and when they complained he told them to ‘eat stones’.
Judge Lynch said one of the victims said they were ‘living like rats’.
Lacatus had lured his victims to the UK with promises of employment where they would receive Euro 400 for a 40 hour week. They were collected in Dublin airport and brought to premises in Portadown. Subsequently they were employed via a recruitment agency.
The victims were transported to and from work by Lacatus and his brother-in-law, Samuil Covaci.
They claimed they never received any wages and had to beg Lacatus for pocket money.
The paperwork they had unwittingly filled in gave permission for their wages to be paid directly into the bank accounts of Lacatus and his wife Christina Nicoleta Covaci.
Judge Lynch said Samuil Covaci’s role was ‘on the fringes’ of the organisation and lived in the house with the victims. There was no suggestion he profited from the crimes and his role appeared to be limited to driving the victims to and from work.
Christina Covaci, said Judge Lynch, appeared to be under the influence of another and while she had been in custody over four months had suffered from anxiety.
Ioan Lacatus pleaded guilty to five counts of trafficking persons into the UK for exploitation, conspiring to traffick persons within the UK for exploitation, acting as an unlicensed gangmaster and converting criminal property. He was sentenced to 30 months and had a suspended sentence of 15 months for a previous offence imposed to run consecutively, making a total of three years nine months.
His wife, Christina Nicoleta Covaci, aged 31 and also of Hanover Street, admitted converting criminal property and entering into an arrangement to acquire, retain or control criminal property. She was sentenced to 12 months, suspended for two years.
His brother-in-law, 25 year old factory worker Samuil Covaci, from Tandragee Road, Portadown admitted conspiring to traffick persons within the UK for exploitation. He received a conditional discharge for two years.