Northern Ireland

Ioan Lacatus: Gangmaster jailed for human trafficking

Ioan Lacatus Image copyright PSNI
Image caption Ioan Lacatus previously pleaded guilty to six charges of human trafficking and exploitation

A "greedy" Romanian gangmaster who kept 15 people in appalling conditions in a house in County Armagh has been jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Ioan Lacatus pleaded guilty to six charges of human trafficking and exploitation.

He forced his victims to work up to 70 hours per week, sometimes for weeks on end without a break.

They were given only limited cold food and shared one toilet and one shower in a house in Portadown.

'Greedy, manipulative individual'

Sentencing Lacatus at Craigavon court, Judge Patrick Lynch said he was a "greedy, ruthless and manipulative individual", who used his intimidating size and threatening language to control vulnerable people.

The workers controlled by Lacatus were, he said, "subjected to degrading and humiliating treatment".

Lacatus' wife, Cristina Covaci, was given a suspended sentence for connected offences.

Her brother, Samuil Covaci, was given a conditional discharge because of the time he had already served on remand.

Image caption The brother of Lacatus' wife, Samuil Covaci, was given a conditional discharge because of the time he had already served on remand

The judge said one of the Romanian victims had described their accommodation as "living like rats'' with limited showering and washing facilities and 15 people housed under the roof of a three-bedroomed house.

They were forced to "sleep on mattresses on the floor of every room'' and were told not talk to other workers or leave the house.

Samuil Covaci and his two brothers also lived at the house in Hanover Street.

He added that Lacatus had effectively "stolen'' around £1,000 per week from the agricultural workers who had come from a rural part of Romania with promises of "food, accommodation and €400 (£360) a week''.

On arrival in Dublin, the migrants had their passports taken, were required to sign transfer forms for wages to be paid into the slave master's bank account and sign a waver to the European directive on weekly working hours.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Ioan Lacatus hid his face when he arrived at court in 2014
Image caption He pulled his top over his head as he left the court in Craigavon on a previous occasion

A prosecution lawyer previously told the court that on 13 August 2014, four Romanian nationals arrived at Portadown police station and complained about the conditions in which they were living at 241 Charles Street in the town.

They told police they worked for a gangmaster they called 'The Minister' - Ioan Lacatus.

Image copyright PSNI
Image caption Cristina Covaci, 31, was given a suspended sentence for connected offences

The wages of the workers were diverted into the bank accounts of Ioan Lacatus and Cristina Covaci.

'Extraordinary deprivation'

When they complained about the lack of warm food, Lacatus told them: "You can eat stones.''

The current occupants and owner of the house are not connected to this case, police said.

Det Supt John McVea, head of the PSNI's Human Trafficking Unit, said: "There is an assumption that most victims are trafficked into and around Northern Ireland for the purposes of providing sexual services.

"This is incorrect, the majority of victims are exploited for labour.

"The harrowing accounts of these Romanian victims should serve as an alarm call to everyone in our society that human trafficking is happening right under our noses.

"These victims lived in an ordinary street and worked in an ordinary factory. But they had to endure extraordinary deprivation.

"It is important that landlords, those running employment agencies and managing businesses, take steps to ensure any foreign nationals they have contact with are here legally and are treated in accordance with the law."

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