A ruthless Polish Roma gypsy crime family trafficked hundreds of vulnerable people while leading lavish lifestyles
Britain’s biggest modern slavery gang pocketed more than £2million while beating their victims and forcing them to live in appalling squalor and wash in canals.
A ruthless Polish Roma gypsy crime family trafficked hundreds of desperate and vulnerable people while leading lavish lifestyles which included a luxury Bentley car.
The victims were lured from Poland to Birmingham on the pretense of well-paid jobs and better lives – but many earned just £20 a week as the gang stole most of their wages.
They would be beaten or threatened by enforcers if they complained, with some revealing their were told they would have to “dig their own graves”.
One victim has permanently lost the use of his arm after he injured his elbow at work and the gang wouldn’t let him to go to hospital.
A woman was told she would be forced into prostitution if she continued to complain.
When one victim died at a home in Birmingham, gang ringleader Justyna Parczewska, 48, demanded his ID and personal belongings be taken out of his pockets in a bid to prevent paramedics from identifying him and to hide their crimes.
Eight members of the UK’s biggest ever modern slavery ring have been jailed after two trials at Birmingham Crown Court.
The victims – including rough sleepers, alcoholics, drug addicts and people with mental health issues – lived in horrific conditions in West Bromwich, Sandwell, Smethwick and Walsall.
They slept four to a room with no beds or bedding in mouse-infested houses. Some slept on used mattresses they had found abandoned in the street.
Many of the homes had broken toilets and no flushing water, and one group was forced to wash with water from a nearby canal.
The slaves would be moved from house to house at shirt notice, leaving them disorientated.
They were kept in 32 properties and most spoke no English and had never traveled outside of Poland before.
Recruiters were sent to Poland, where they found victims who had just been released from prison, were in a desperate financial situation or were outside homeless shelters or off-licences, the court heard.Some needed cash to pay for medical bills for children, partners or parents.
The recruiters returned to the UK with hundreds of people aged from 17 to their early 60s – many of them arriving on coaches at the gang’s base in West Bromwich.
West Midlands Police managed to crack the human trafficking ring thanks to the Hope for Justice anti-slavery charity, which had encouraged the terrified and traumatized victims to speak to detectives.
More than 60 victims gave evidence or statements during a five-month trial. Many have since returned home to Poland, and some have stayed in the UK.
Parczewska was jailed for eight years, and her husband Ignacy Brzezinski, 52, was sentenced in his absence after going on the run during the trial.
Their home was used as a based for the slavery operation which stole the victims’ identities and committed financial fraud.
An expensive Bentley car, linked to Brzezinski, was found at the home.
Relative Marek Brzezinski, who was jailed for nine years, brought many of the Polish nationals over in his own car.
The Brzezinskis were on benefits but detectives discovered that they had wired money to Poland.
Warsaw-born Marek Chowanic, 30, from Walsall, was jailed for 11 years, and his partner Natalia Zmuda, 29, was sentenced to four years and six months for her role.
“Extremely psychologically manipulative” Chowanic had forced the victims to open bank accounts which were then controlled by the gang.
Zmuda stole wages from bank accounts she controlled, and took the victims to job centre appointments for national insurance numbers.
Juliana Chodakowicz, who used her position as an account manager at Worcestershire recruitment agency E-response to get jobs for the victims, was jailed for seven years.
Unsuspecting and “gullible” bosses had praised Chodakowicz, who lived in Evesham and was originally from Grudziadz in Poland, for her work in finding labourers for their firms.
She had mocked the desperate victims in text messages with other gang members.
After being forced to set up bank accounts, the victims were made to work at farms or in manual labour with employment agencies.
They were promised wages of up to £400 a week, but they often received less than half as the gang pocketed the rest.
The financial exploitation of the victims totalled £380,000, but £2million could be added to that figure if the labourers’ wages and bank accounts were included, the court heard.
Gang members Wojciech Nowakowski, 41, and Jan Sadowski, 26, met new arrivals and took them to open bank accounts, claim benefits and register with employment agencies.
Gang “enforcer” Nowakowski battered victims and was feared.
Police are still trying to find other members of the gang.
Detectives launched an investigation after many of the often starving victims turned to Hope for Justice for food and further help.
Ignacy Brzezinski and Nowakowski were convicted of conspiracy to traffic people, requiring them to perform forced labour and acquiring criminal property.
Sadowski admitted the same charges.
The other five gang members were convicted of the same offences on February 22 but reporting restrictions prevented them being named until now.
A judge praised the “meticulous detective work” of police, who analysed 650,000 lines of telephone data, 250 bank accounts, more than 3,000 exhibits and 1,500 witness statements.
Police had obtained ten interim Slavery & Trafficking Risk Orders (STROs) against the gang.
Nowakowski and Ignacy Brzezinski breached the conditions and were the first people in the UK to be jailed using STRO legislation.
They were jailed for 42 and 28 months respectively.
After the trial, Detective Chief Inspector Nick Dale, head of West Midlands Police’s Gangs and Organised Crime Unit, said the gang members showed no remorse.
He added: “The defendants sat in court listening to evidence and there was no recognition of what they had done or contrition.
“They were exploiting anything up to 250 people in that community at any one time. The evidence of the victims was extremely impactive.”
He added: “This was trafficking and exploitation on a massive scale; this gang treated these people, their fellow countrymen, as commodities purely for their own greed.
“What they did was abhorrent: they subjected victims to a demi-life of misery and poverty. They forced them into work and, if they objected, they were beaten or threatened with violence and told family members back home would be attacked.
“Some were told they would be taken to the woods to dig their own graves.
“They have their dignity back.”
Detective Sergeant Michelle Ohrens, deputy senior investigating officer on the case, said: “Many have returned to Poland and have really turned their lives round.
“They have proper jobs and are working and earning and have families and an outlook on life.
“Some have remained in the UK and are functioning members of society.”\