An Ashington man has been jailed for his part in trafficking dozens of Hungarian women into the country to work as prostitutes.
This week Hove Crown Court heard how Mate Puskas, 26, of Billingshurst Road in Ashington, Zoltan Mohacsi, of east London, brothers Peter and Istvan Toth, of Eastbourne, and British national Victoria Brown, of Bognor Regis, trafficked more than 60 women into the country via ports and airports in the south east, including Gatwick.
The gang were sentenced to a total of 23 years in prison on Tuesday (January 7) following a ten-week trial.
Puskas was found guilty of control of prostitution for gain, and of trafficking persons into the United Kingdom for sexual exploitation and sentenced to six years in jail.
Suspicions were raised when Sussex Police referred separate incidents of prostitution to the Home Office, which were linked by Hungarian women who had travelled to the UK.
All the defendants were complicit in the offence of trafficking, said a Home Office spokesperson.
They provided transport, accompanied or chaperoned women into the UK, or financed the conspiracy by paying for flights, hotels and advertising. All the women were subjected to physical, mental or financial control by the gang.
The women, who were mainly from Budapest and south east Hungary, were aware they were coming to the UK work as prostitutes but misled about their working conditions. Clients were charged significant amounts but the women were badly paid and overworked.
They were put to work at hotels and rented accommodation across the country, moving regularly between locations. The conspiracy stretched as far north as Liverpool, south as Eastbourne, east as Norwich and west as Bristol.
The gang was caught following simultaneous raids by the Home Office’s Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigations team in October 2012. Officers found defendants operated a ‘switchboard’ which arranged rendezvous directly with clients via an adult services website.
Among the locations raided was an internet café in Surrey Street, Croydon, run by Brown and Puskas. They were found with various mobile phones containing texts about meetings that had been arranged between prostitutes and clients. The majority of the trafficked women have returned to Hungary.
Security Minister James Brokenshire said: “This is an appalling case where an organised criminal gang has traded in human misery in order to make a profit. I am thankful that these criminal slave masters have been stopped and brought to justice.
“Slavery has no place in Britain and the Home Secretary and I have made clear our personal commitment to stamp it out.
“Action is being taken on a number of fronts; the newly launched National Crime Agency is leading an enhanced and co-ordinated response to targeting trafficking gangs, and we have published a draft Modern Slavery Bill.
“The bill, introduced later this year, will send the strongest possible message to criminals that if you are involved in this disgusting trade in human beings, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be locked up.”