Car wash mafia: UK jails Slovak crime family for £700,000 slavery ring

Slaves were forced to work in restaurants and car washes earning only 27p an hour

A mafia family who lured people to Britain and placed them in "appalling” conditions washing pots and cars earning a pittance were sentenced to jail.

Over a nine-year period, the family of five from the Michalovce region of Slovakia enticed vulnerable or homeless eastern Europeans with the promise of a job, accommodation and a better life.

They pledged salaries of £344 ($485.8) a week but upon their arrival in central England, the victims were forced to work for more than 80 hours a week and paid just 27p per hour.

The crime clan, headed by Zdenka Ferencova, her daughter Andrea Demeterova and son-in-law Gejza Demeter, took possession of the workers' ID documents and assured them other earnings were being saved on their behalf, but few saw any returns.

The operation was exposed when two victims approached a charity to complain of exploitation.

"Between 2008 and 2017, the victims were forced to work under appalling circumstances in British restaurant kitchens and car wash facilities, receiving only approximately £21.50 for working weeks of up to 80 hours a week," Eurojust said.

The agency helped to co-ordinate the actions of UK and Slovak authorities, leading to the arrest of five perpetrators.

"They recruited more than 60 underprivileged fellow countrymen for work in the UK, promising weekly salaries of more than £344,” Eurojust said.

"In reality, the victims were forced to work up to 14 hours a day, six days per week, and receiving very little payment while living in very poor conditions.

"The criminal gang told the victims that most of their earnings had to be used for accommodation, transport or food."

Demeter and Demeterova were arrested on suspicion of slavery offences, their property was searched and items including electronic devices were seized for investigation.

They fled the UK for Slovakia where European warrants were issued for their arrest.

"Further investigations revealed Ms 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,” West Midlands Police said.

“Each was 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."

The family set up a fake recruitment company and a cleaning service to launder money.

"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," Det Insp Lisa Jackson said.

"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 victim, who was not named, told Birmingham Crown Court up to 50 people were forced to live in the same house.

“There were seven people in our bedroom, some of us even slept on the floor," he said.

"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.”

The man said that during one day off each week, they were forced to work in the house in which they were living.

"For the weeks’ work, we got paid £21 and some of the people did not even get that,” he told the court. “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."

The court heard the gang forced the victims to sign bogus work contracts.

The family operated from the UK until 2017 when they moved to Germany.

"It operated according to a very hierarchical structure with a strict distribution of tasks for the individual members and systematically and meticulously planned and performed activities," Eurojust said.

"The final proceeds were siphoned off to Slovakia where the money was laundered."

The gang members were found guilty of conspiracy to organise human trafficking, including the use of compulsory labour, in Britain and in the Slovakian regions of Kosice and Presov.

“Human trafficking, including the use of compulsory labour, devalues the life of the people trafficked," Judge Dean Kershaw told the clan.

"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. It is abuse.

"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."

Gejza Demeter, 53, was sentenced to eight years in prison; Andrea Demeterova, 49, and Pavol Ferenc, 48, were sentenced to six and a half years; Klaudia Ferencova, 41, was sentenced to five years and Zdenka Ferencova, 68, to four years in jail.

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