A GANG jailed today for trafficking dozens of Hungarian women into the country to work as prostitutes used Hampshire hotels to ply their trade.
British national Victoria Brown, and Hungarians Mate Puskas, Zoltan Mohacsi and brothers Peter and Istvan Toth trafficked more than 60 women into the country via ports and airports in the south east, including Luton and Gatwick.
Today they have been jailed for a total of 23 years following a Home Office investigation that found two hotels had been used by the gang in Southampton.
The court heard how the Travelodge was used on at least one occasion on January 2012 and the Jury's Inn on June and July of the same year.
They were also 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 were convicted yesterday following a ten-week trial, and sentenced at the same court today.
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. 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.
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.
Similar evidence was found on the other defendants when they were arrested.
Brothers Istvan and Peter Toth, who were arrested at an address in Eastbourne on 20 December 2012, were tried in their absence after absconding from court in September 2013. They are wanted men.
Peter, 28, and his brother Istvan, 35, of Fiador Court, Midway Quay, Eastbourne, were found guilty of the sex trafficking charges and sentenced in their absence.
Peter was sentenced to four years and Istvan five years. The pair were also both sentenced to nine months for contempt of court, which will run consecutively.
Victoria Brown, 25, of Surrey Street, Croydon, was found guilty of similar charges and jailed for three years.
Mate Puskas, 26, of Surrey Street, Croydon, was found guilty of the same charge and jailed for six years.
Zoltan Mohacsi, 36, of Surrey Street, Croydon, was found guilty of the same charges and jailed for four years.
All the foreign national members of the gang will be subject to automatic deportation orders at the end of their sentences.
A timetable has also been set for proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act to start.
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.”
David Fairclough, from the Home Office's Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigations team, said: “This appalling gang preyed on the vulnerability of young women who came to the UK in the hope of finding a better life. They controlled the women mentally, physically and financially.
“Our officers dismantled their despicable network and they are now where they belong - behind bars.
“Any form of trafficking will not be tolerated. It is a disgusting crime and, working with our law enforcement colleagues at home and abroad, we will do all we can to stop it and bring those involved to justice.”
The Home Office's Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigations team consists of specialist trained immigration officers and seconded police who investigate organised immigration crime.
Anyone with information about suspected immigration abuse can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 anonymously or visit crimestoppers-uk.org.