To vulnerable men were approached on the streets of Slovakia before being brought to Peterborough to be exploited and work for very little pay, a court heard.
The two victims lived at various addresses in Peterborough over the course of almost eight years – with one even being coerced into a sham marriage.
Roman Slavik (29) of West Parade, West Town, and his mother Maria Slavikova (46) of the same address controlled both victims’ bank accounts and only provided them with a small amount of disposable income from the true amount they earned.
The first victim, a 30-year-old man, was paid around £12,900 from Slavik and Slavikova for nearly eight years of work – but the total money he actually earned, including benefits, was £118,700.
The second victim, aged 46, was only paid around £13,600 for the same years of work but actually earned around £80,100.
Both men lived with the Slavik family but were accommodated in very poor conditions, with poor quality food, and were not allowed to return home to Slovakia.
The two victims had different fridges from the family, were paid as little as £30 a week from their wages and were threatened with homelessness if they didn’t work.
The 30-year-old victim’s only excursion from the house, other than work, was to the shops and he only ever owned a door key to the first of the Peterborough addresses he lived at.
He was taken by Slavikova to Peterborough’s job centre to claim benefits, with Slavikova speaking English on his behalf and lying to staff that he had a wife and children. Around £100 was subsequently paid into his account every two weeks.
The man was also paid £200 to marry a woman from the Philippines, who he had met only once before, so she could stay in the UK. He never saw her again after the wedding.
The second victim was unemployed and living in a derelict building in Nitra, Slovakia, before he was introduced to the Slavik family.
He was brought to the UK with just one change of clothes and his Slovakian ID card, the court heard.
Slavik and Slavikova took out a number of phone contracts in his name for their own use, as well as a gym membership. All of these were done without the victim’s knowledge.
In addition to a severe injury to his leg, the 46-year-old became financially trapped by the Slavik family and was unable to speak English.
When he plucked up the courage to challenge the pair about the minimal money he was receiving, he was given excuses but no extra funds.
The man was off work sick for around 18 months but during this time was made to perform odd jobs in Lincoln Road and West Parade in Peterborough.
Despite his leg injury he was forced to walk to and from these two locations, roughly a three-mile round trip.
Both victims were moved to various addresses in Peterborough between 2008 and 2016, along with members of the Slavik family, until April 2016 when police executed a warrant in Lincoln Road, Peterborough.
Both men were rescued and entered into the National Referral Mechanism, from which time they have been striving to rebuild their lives.
In August 2016 a second warrant was executed at West Parade and both Slavik and Slavikova were arrested.
In police interview, Slavik answered no comment to the majority of questions to him.
Slavikova told police she came to the UK in 2007 with Slavik. She claimed both victims were alcoholics and drug users, before repeatedly denying allegations against her and her son.
She claimed she had nothing to hide and was innocent.
Both Slavik and Slavikova stood trial at Peterborough Crown Court from January 21.
On February 11, Slavik was found guilty of arranging the travel of a person within the UK for exploitation, assisting unlawful immigration (in relation to the sham marriage) and two charges of fraud by abuse of position.
Jurors found Slavikova guilty of two counts of fraud by abuse of position.
They were sentenced at the same court yesterday afternoon (Wednesday, March 6) where Slavik was handed six and a half years in prison. Slavikova was sentenced to three and a half years.
Sentencing the pair, Judge Jonathan Cooper said there was “considerable deception” involved in the case.
He said Slavik and Slavikova exploited their victims “relentlessly over eight years in a sustained campaign”, adding that the victims’ “scars remain” from their actions.
Judge Cooper added that there was no “easy or obvious way out” for the victims in the case. He said: “Your victims were grossly vulnerable and that must be reflected in the sentence I pass.
“The message must go out loud and clear to anyone working with migrants, that anyone who holds someone else’s bank card, feeling as if it belongs to them, will be committing a very serious offence indeed. They can expect harsh penalties.”
DC Pete Wise, who investigated the case with DCI Rob Hall and DC Peter Hume, said: “This investigation was a big team effort. Both vulnerable victims in this case were taken advantage of by people they thought they could trust.
“The Slavik family benefitted directly from their hard work and clearly disregarded providing them with what was rightfully theirs.
“The victims spoke little or no English and worked extremely long days, making the opportunity for social integration away from their ‘home’ address virtually impossible.
“Tackling modern slavery is a key priority for the force and court cases of this nature highlight that we are doing all we can to combat it.
“Increasing intelligence in this area is key to protecting the vulnerable. It’s important that people are aware of the signs of modern slavery and report any concerns to us.”
For more information on modern slavery and advice on how to spot the signs, visit the force website: https://www.cambs.police.uk/information-and-services/Modern-slavery/Modern-slavery.