Two from Newport jailed for ‘enslaving man to line their own pockets’
Two men from Newport have been jailed and a woman given a suspended sentence for “enslaving a man to line their own pockets”.
Normunds Freibergs, 40, and his accomplices Jacobus Stankevicius, 59, and Ruta Stankeviciene, 57, exploited and abused the vulnerable victim, who they forced to work to pay off debt they claimed he owed them.
The man, 31, was lured to the country by Freibergs, who offered him work and then stripped him of his bank card and denied him showers and clean clothes.
Over an 11-month period they got him to work in factories then pilfered his wages, stealing from him an estimated £10,000 while the most he received was £20.
As the three were sentenced in Cardiff on Friday, the man told the court he would “never forget” what had happened to him.
The man said he had wanted to come to the UK for a better life and higher wages, so he could send money home to Latvia to help his struggling family and ill father.
His chance came when he connected with Freibergs on a website called Draugiem, the Latvian version of Facebook.
Freibergs boasted of helping people find jobs in the UK and told him he would have work in a bakery for £8.20 an hour and living costs of £85 a week.
The man sent Freiburgs between 600 euros (£515) and 800 euros (£686) after he said a deposit was needed to get him settled into accommodation.
But when the man arrived in the country he was forced to live with husband and wife Stankevicius and Stankeviciene in Newport.
The defendants took his passport and threatened him with violence if he tried to leave, claiming he had an ever-increasing “debt” to repay.
The couple ridiculed and mocked him for smelling but prevented him from washing.
Stankevicius kept a list on the fridge detailing the victim’s debt, which continued to grow and half of which was made up of interest.
One charge was for renting space in a fridge he was not allowed to use.
He was warned that “bad people” in his homeland would force his family to pay if he did not.
The victim began working at a poultry factory shortly before Christmas in 2017, earning as much as £500 per week.
However, his wages were paid into bank accounts Freibergs had forced him to open and to which only the three defendants had access.
During the trial at Newport Crown Court the jury heard how the victim’s co-workers at Avara Foods in Abergavenny noticed how little food he had and that he was wearing the same clothes every day.
Colleagues held a collection for him to buy trainers after he turned up for work in the winter wearing sandals, and some said they regularly shared their food with him.
In October 2018 he went with a colleague to the company’s human resources department and said he was “ready to talk”.
Investigators from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority arrested the three during an operation with Gwent Police in October 2018.
A jury unanimously found them guilty of the charges after the trial at Newport Crown Court in August.
A statement written by the victim and read aloud by prosecutor Lowri Wynn-Morgan said: “When I came to the UK in 2017, it was to secure a better life for myself and my family back in Latvia.
“I believed I’d be able to find better accommodation and better living standards, more job opportunities and better pay and conditions than I experienced working elsewhere in Europe.
“I haven’t forgotten what they did to me.
“I’m too scared to come to Wales, they have many friends and I believe they will hurt me.
“The impact of their actions caused me not to trust people now as they will seek to take advantage of me.”
He said that while he now has freedom and has enrolled in college and is taking English lessons he “will never forget the bad times and what happened to me”.
GLAA investigating officer Laura Thomas said: “The victim was subjected to a life of misery by Freibergs, Stankevicius and Stankeviciene, who ruthlessly exploited and enslaved him, purely to line their own pockets.”
Detective Sergeant Simon Thomas, of Gwent Police’s modern day slavery team, said the force was pleased with the result and said: “It takes a lot of courage to come forward as a victim of such a heinous and vindictive crime.”
Andrew Brodie, a director at Avara Foods, said: “We are delighted that we have been able to play a part in identifying this hideous crime, bringing the perpetrators to justice and providing meaningful support to the victim.”
Freibergs, of Morley Close, Newport, was jailed for five years for forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking offences. He was cleared of acting as an unlicensed gangmaster.
Stankevicius and Stankeviciene, both of Capel Close, Newport, were convicted of forced or compulsory labour offences.
Stankevicius was jailed for four years, while Stankeviciene avoided immediate custody and received a 20-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months.
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