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1 November 2018, 08:40 | Updated: 1 November 2018, 08:44
Nine people have admitted human trafficking and exploiting vulnerable men from Latvia to Derby.
The group, many of whom are related to each other, recruited the men on the promise of well-paid work and a better life in the UK.
When victims arrived in the city, they were given sub-standard accommodation and made to work long hours for little or no pay.
Officers identified 28 victims involved in the case, which saw detectives from Derbyshire and Latvia work together to bring the gang to justice.
Assisted by the State Police of Latvia, the Latvian Ministry of Justice, the National Crime Agency and the CPS, our prosecution team has ensured that 15 victims have been able to tell of their ordeals in court.
The gang originally denied the crimes but changed their pleas at Nottingham Crown Court yesterday (Wednesday 31 October) – seven weeks into a three-month trial.
The gang, who admitted offences linked to human trafficking with a view to exploitation, are Karens Pelcis (25), Madara Stromane (24), Magdalena Kleina (55), IIgvars Pelcis (33) Ainars Pelcis (54), Andris Krauklis (39), Imitra Didzus (33), Karlis Aleksandrovs (42), and Jolanta Pelce (37). Two other defendants were discharged.
Detective Sergeant Carl Chetwyn said: "When we made the arrests in Derby and discovered ten victims, we knew we only had part of the jigsaw. To truly dismantle the whole gang and bring them to justice, we needed to find those people in Latvia responsible for recruiting the victims in the first place.
"It was then that we turned to Europol and Eurojust for support and set up a Joint Investigation Team with detectives in Latvia. Working together with them for the last year has proved invaluable in this case and no doubt helped secure the evidence we needed for court.
“With the support of the State Police of Latvia, we have managed to locate and safeguard many more victims who had returned to Latvia, which also gave them the opportunity to have their say during the trial.”
Many of their victims had no idea how much money they were actually making as the gang controlled their finances and documents, obtaining benefits and setting up bank accounts in the victims’ names.
Detectives found the gang members used the proceeds of their criminality to fund their own lavish lifestyle, using victims’ wages on purchases like flights, expensive cars and jewellery, all while some of the victims worked long hours and slept on the floor, on mattresses infested with bedbugs.
The gang was arrested during two waves of warrants; the first came in September last year, when officers executed warrants at houses in Rutland Street, St James Road, Balaclava Road and Patmore Square. Ten suspected victims were found during these warrants and safeguarded.
This was followed by warrants executed in February at several homes in Latvia and at St James’ Road, Normanton. In the garden of one of the Latvian houses, a man in his 60s was found living in a squalid shack, without heating, in temperatures as low as -16C.
Made to carry out odd jobs on behalf of the gang, officers believed him to be a victim of modern slavery and he is now being supported by the Latvian authorities.
Detective Chief Inspector Richard Alton, the senior investigating officer, said: “This investigation has been so complex that it has taken over 18 months to bring to trial.
“During this time I have been humbled to have worked with so many dedicated staff in the UK and in Latvia, with police, the National Crime Agency and our Crown Prosecution Service.
“Derbyshire Constabulary focuses its efforts on protecting vulnerable people and some of the victims are some of the most vulnerable within our society.
“The majority of victims have been allowed to give their accounts in court, giving them a voice that previously has been unheard.
“There are no winners but we have gone some way to ensuring that we as an organisation understand the impacts of this criminality, and it will undoubtedly shape our response in the future.”
The group are due to be sentenced next week.