Two Romanian crime gang members operating a UK-wide human trafficking network in Northern Ireland have been imprisoned.
Brothers Decebal and Spartacus Mihai, originally from Romania but living in Kenlis Street, Banbridge, pleaded guilty to controlling prostitution for gain, conspiracy to traffic for sexual exploitation, acquiring criminal property and converting criminal property, a police statement said.
Decebal Mihai, 28, was sentenced at Belfast Crown Court to four years, half to be served on licence. Spartacus Mihai, 21, was sentenced to three years, half to be served on licence.
It is the first conviction and sentencing for a human trafficking for sexual exploitation offence in Northern Ireland and prosecutors hailed it as a landmark.
Spartacus Ilie Mihai was sentenced to three years for human trafficking offences (PSNI/PA)
Detective Chief Inspector Mark Bell, head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit, said: “Detectives from the Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit arrested Decebel and Spartacus Mihai as part of one of the biggest investigations into human trafficking in Northern Ireland.
“The brothers were part of a Romanian organised crime gang involved in trafficking females into, within and out of Northern Ireland for the purposes of sexual exploitation.”
It followed the receipt of “valuable” information from a member of the public which led to searches in East Belfast and Banbridge in May last year.
Mr Bell added: “At both addresses we discovered women aged between 19 and 30 who were identified as potential victims of sexual exploitation.
“All four women agreed to voluntarily go with detectives to be spoken to, but sadly those victims did not engage with police and seek the help they needed.
“It is unbearable to think what those victims have been through, they couldn’t understand or speak English and probably didn’t have access to much money.
“Understandably they were absolutely terrified and for all these complex reasons they would not cooperate with police, but thankfully these victims no longer have to endure this life of being exploited sexually on a regular basis.”
He said officers found 25 different telephone numbers linked to Decebal Mihai, 10 of which were linked to websites advertising escorts.
“We also identified seven telephone numbers which were linked to Spartacus Mihai, five of these were found on websites advertising escorts.”
He said Decebel Mihai, on various dates between December 2013 and April 2017, acquired around £150,000 from his human trafficking.
Spartacus Ilie Mihai, on various dates between December 2014 and May 2017, acquired around £27,000 from human trafficking.
Lynne Carlin, senior public prosecutor from the Public Prosecution Service serious crime unit, said: “Prosecutions of this kind mean that those criminals who exploit and traffic vulnerable victims now know that the PPS and other criminal justice partners can build robust cases and secure convictions against them without requiring the evidence of often frightened and intimidated victims.”