Roma slave gang who splashed out on champagne parties and lavish holidays with cash stuffed in suitcases after trafficking victims from Slovakia to Newcastle are jailed for a total of 40 years
- A ruthless modern day slavery gang has been jailed for a total of 40 years
- The Rafaels – a family of Slovakian gypsies living in Newcastle – bought slaves for £200 who were shipped from Bratislava
- Tens of thousands of pounds were pocketed in claims using the victim’s names
Ruzena Rafaelova Jr and Marian Rafael pictured on holiday
A ruthless modern day slavery gang has been jailed for a total of 40 years after police discovered photographs of a large suitcase stuffed to the brim with tens of thousands of Euros from the family’s ‘enterprise’.
The Rafaels – a family of Slovakian gypsies living in Newcastle – enjoyed the high life while their victims lived on stale food in cellars below their homes.
While ‘gang boss’ Roman Rafael dressed himself and his wife in gold jewellery, took expensive holidays and drove a Mercedes, the people he enslaved were told: ‘If you weren’t with us you’d be eating dogs,’ Teesside Crown Court heard.
To the outside world the family, of Roma origin – led by brothers Roman and Marian Rafael – lived a modest life in terraced houses.
In reality they were earning the kind of wealth they could only have dreamt of in their native town of Zlate Moravce, south western Slovakia.
The victims were bought for £200 and shipped from Bratislava, through Edinburgh or London and eventually to Newcastle.
Police investigators discovered photographs of a large suitcase stuffed to the brim with tens of thousands of Euros from their ‘family enterprise’, the court heard.
Judge Peter Armstrong told the gang: ‘This was a family business and it has been proven that business was modern slavery.
The court heard that police investigators discovered photographs of a large suitcase stuffed to the brim with tens of thousands of Euros from their ‘family enterprise’.
‘The case arises from a police operation concerning the criminal exploitation of vulnerable people induced to come to this country with the promise of a better life with good work and income.
‘Instead in your hands they were deceived, dominated and degraded.
‘The victims were easily exploited, just as you intended they would be, because you knew how to use the government and recruitment agencies to exploit them.
‘The truth is you were making a living from the hard work and efforts of people you had living in basic accommodation at your homes.’
Judge Armstrong added: ‘You regarded your victims as income generating assets who could be controlled, bought and sold.
‘You funded a criminal lifestyle by the exploitation of vulnerable people, by robbing them of their dignity and their autonomy, by deliberately degrading them as human beings.’
Prosecutor John Elvidge, QC, had earlier told the court: ‘The full extent of their earnings from this systematic and sophisticated criminal enterprise cannot be calculated precisely.
‘But what is clear is that the purpose of it was to generate a reliable stream of income running into hundreds of thousands of pounds over a period of years.
‘They withdrew cash which was converted into gold and transported out of the UK to associates in Zlate Moravce.
‘A single slave could generate £13,000 per annum and four slaves could generate £50,000 a year or £250,000 over five years.
‘Further funds were created using overdraft and loan facilities on bank accounts which were nominally in the names of those unfortunate people they were exploiting.
Ruzena Rafaelova Jr and Marian Rafael (left) at a party and pictured right is the family’s Mercedes
‘Also they dishonestly claimed state benefits with one man alone bringing them £15,200.’
He said other slaves netted the family sums of £13,000, £10,000 and £3,100 in benefits which they continued to claim long after the claimants had left the country.
Angelika Cech, 30, the wife of Roman Rafael and mother of his four children, ‘simply drove out of the country with £8,500 to Slovakia where it was invested in gold and jewellery.’
Mr Elvidge said police recovered a mobile phone owned by Roman Rafael’s mother Ruzena Rafaelova Sr, which she had tried to smash.
He said: ‘There was a picture on there of a suitcase stuffed with tens of thousands in Euros.’
One woman was treated as a ‘personal servant’ by Ruzena Rafaelova Jr and when she complained she was told: ‘If you were not living with us you would be eating dogs.’
The slaves were targeted in Slovakia and the Czech Republic because they were homeless or destitute and promised a better life in the UK.
However they were made to work in back-breaking jobs and were paid very little money which one man said he spent on alcohol ‘to drink away his sorrow.’
One of the slaves – who cannot be named for legal reasons – said: ‘I felt as though I had been squeezed out like a wet cloth.’
The man continued that he came to the UK to support his young family in Slovakia.
But he said: ‘I have missed three years of my children growing up, I have missed their hugs, Christmases and birthdays but they think I am a bad father and bad person.
While ‘gang boss’ Roman Rafael dressed himself and his wife in gold jewellery, took expensive holidays and drove a Mercedes, the people he enslaved were told: ‘If you weren’t with us you’d be eating dogs,’ Teesside Crown Court heard. Pictured: Roman and his wife Angelika Chec
The victims were bought and sold through a network that saw them shipped from Bratislava, through Edinburgh or London and eventually to Newcastle. Pictured: Victims being led through an airport
‘I came to the UK to improve their lives but their lives did not improve because of the way I was treated.’
Another of the slaves was paid £5 a week for 29 weeks working at a tyre factory – hard labour which should have earnt him £6,800.
Mr Elvidge said: ‘He used his tiny allowance “drinking for sorrow” while his keepers held big parties and Marian Rafael and his wife went out to casinos.
‘He had nothing to show for his year of hard labour and long after he left the country fraudulent benefit claims were being made in his name by the Rafael family.’
Mr Elvidge said: ‘The victims in this case were not chained or bound, but that was not necessary because their circumstances made them compliant and to all intents and purposes captive.
‘They were strangers in a foreign land with a foreign tongue and without access to money they were reliant on the people who were holding them.’
The Rafaels continued their ‘family business in slavery’ from 2010 until 2017. They were convicted after a 15 week trial which began at the start of January.
Roman Rafael, 33, who admitted conspiracy to traffic with a view to exploitation, money laundering and causing forced labour, was jailed for 10 years.
Marian Rafael, 39, who also admitted conspiracy to traffic with a view to exploitation, money laundering and causing forced labour, was jailed for 10 years.
Roman’s wife Angelika Chec, 30, was convicted of the same charges and jailed for five years.
Marian’s wife Ruzena Rafaelova Jr, 37, was convicted of the same charges and jailed for five years.
Their cousin Juraj Rafael, 38, was convicted of the same charges and jailed for four years and a youth aged 17 was convicted of the same charges and jailed for two years.
Roman and Marian’s mother Ruzena Rafaelova Sr, 58, was convicted of causing forced labour and money laundering and was jailed for four years.
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