Latvian human trafficking gang jailed for East Midlands plot
Nine members of an organised crime group based in the East Midlands and Latvia have been jailed for human trafficking offences against 28 victims.
The gang targeted vulnerable people by offering work in the UK. Once in Derby, victims were housed in squalid conditions and sent to work in manual jobs. The gang took victims’ passports and identity documents to set up bank accounts in their names but kept the cards. When the victims were paid, the gang would withdraw funds from their accounts and keep it for themselves, funding their own lavish lifestyles.
The CPS worked closely with teams from Derbyshire Police and the State Police of Latvia to bring the group to justice. A prosecutor from the CPS East Midlands Complex Casework Unit provided legal advice to the investigation from an early stage, which helped secure vital evidence once the police started making arrests. Working as part of a joint investigation team, prosecutors secured European Arrest Warrants to bring four defendants arrested in Latvia to the UK to stand trial.
Eleven defendants were charged with human trafficking and modern slavery. The prosecution case demonstrated that their methods were the same each time. The CPS presented evidence including CCTV footage secured by police in Derbyshire and Latvia of the defendants withdrawing money from ATMs that matched identical transactions on the victims’ accounts.
The victims were targeted because the defendants knew they would be vulnerable. Many were overcoming extremely challenging personal circumstances. However, these victims received support from all partners involved to support them to give evidence during the trial, either in the UK or via a video link from Latvia.
A trial started in September 2018. Seven weeks into the trial, after 15 of the 28 victims identified by the investigation had given evidence, nine of the defendants pleaded guilty to human trafficking. After careful consideration of the facts in the prosecution case and the sentencing powers available to the court, the CPS accepted these pleas on the basis that they trafficked the victims with a view to exploitation and had exploited those victims once they arrived in the UK.
Linsey Farnsworth, from the CPS, said: “The case against these defendants was compelling. In each case the CPS produced evidence secured by investigators here and in Latvia that proved the defendants were targeting vulnerable people, bringing them to Derby and taking the wages they were earning.
“Of the 28 victims identified, 15 gave crucial evidence of the way they were treated by the defendants, providing a harrowing account of the human impact of this group’s crimes.
“Having seen the compelling nature of the evidence and the courage and determination of the victims, these defendants had no option but to plead guilty.
“The CPS accepted guilty pleas from nine defendants to human trafficking offences with intent to exploit. They have now been sentenced for the full extent of their criminality.”
Detective Sergeant Carl Chetwyn, from Derbyshire Police, said: “The criminals in this case didn’t see borders; they saw vulnerable men who they could exploit for their own gain.
“We knew that we needed to ignore borders and work with an overseas force to snare the main players in this gang and truly dismantle their operations.
“This marked a totally new approach for Derbyshire Police. It was a massive undertaking, one that saw us treading into uncharted territory, but what today’s result shows is that it was all worth it.
“By executing this operation with the help of the Crown Prosecution Service, other agencies and the Latvian State Police, we have shown that it doesn’t matter how far these gang members run; if they exploit people on our patch, we will chase them and bring them to justice.”
Notes to editors
- Linsey Farnsworth is a senior crown prosecutor in the CPS East Midlands Complex Casework Unit
- Ainars Pelcis, 54, was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison
- Magdalena Kleina, 55, was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison
- Madara Stromane, 24, was sentenced to 6 years in prison
- IIgvars Pelcis, 33, was sentenced to 3 years, 8 months in prison
- Karens Pelcis, 25, was sentenced to 6 years in prison
- Jolanta Pelce, 37, was sentenced to 2 years in prison
- Karlis Aleksandrovs, 42, was sentenced to 2 years in prison
- Andris Krauklis, 39, was sentenced to 1 year, 3 months in prison
- Imitra Didzus, 33, was sentenced to 1 year, 2 months in prison