Brothers Decebal and Spartacus Mihai jailed for trafficking
Two brothers who were part of an "extensive" UK-wide criminal operation have been jailed for trafficking and controlling prostitutes in Belfast and Banbridge.
Decebal Mihai, 28, from Kenlis Street in Banbridge and Spartacus Mihai, 20, from Henly Road, Ilford, in Essex, pleaded guilty to eight counts.
They were sentenced to four years and three years respectively.
A judge said the crimes were committed over a three and a half year period.
He said the women involved had been in their late teens, were vulnerable and isolated because of their limited grasp of the English language.
The police investigation involved a "sting operation" with officers posing as prospective clients in order to make contact with the girls.
It's understood the men orchestrated a "prolific amount of posts" offering sexual services on escort websites and had driven the women to and from their appointments with clients.
As a result of new legislation the prosecution was brought without the women having to give evidence.
Speaking outside Belfast Crown Court Detective Chief Inspector Mark Bell described the victims as having been "groomed" by the men.
"We do not know the full extent of this organised crime gang at this time," he said.
'Six figure sums'
During sentencing in Belfast the court heard Decebal Mihai had handled and lodged "six figure" sums of money through his own account and through international transfers back to Romania.
The judge told the older brother: "I don't believe you were at the top of this operation, but you certainly weren't at the bottom."
Both men were arrested in May 2017 after searches were carried out at properties on the Newtownards Road in Belfast and at Kenlis Street in Banbridge.
DCI Bell said: "Victims of human trafficking experience the most horrific of ordeals.
"Their captors subject them to a degrading life which violates their human rights and denies them their rights to life, freedom and safety.
He said: "This case marks a first on two fronts - it is the first conviction and sentencing for a human trafficking for sexual exploitation offence in Northern Ireland" under new legislation.
"It is also the first human trafficking conviction in Northern Ireland where the victims did not have to provide any evidence as part of the investigation."
A defence lawyer for Decebal Mihai told the court: "It isn't the case where these men were living a lavish lifestyle, living in some fancy house, driving some flash car or wearing designer clothes."
He said the two defendants had been living with the women and his client had been in a relationship with one of them.
However, a prosecuting barrister said there was evidence of cash deposits worth £85,957 to Decebal Mihai's account and a further £31,286 had been transferred to him from Northern Ireland while he had been in Romania.
The court accepted that Spartacus Mihai, who cried during sentencing, also benefited financially but to a lesser extent.
He had been controlling at least one of the six women.
Both men had signed orders which will see then deported back to Romania immediately after their sentences are served.