Maros Tancos and his partner Joanna Gomulska are behind bars. After a lengthy trial at Bristol Crown Court at the start of this year they have been jailed for human trafficking offences.
The offending relates to them bringing desperate people from Slovakia to Bristol in search of a better life. Instead, the people were housed in squalor and put in menial jobs.
And Tancos and Gomulska kept the money they made and gambled it away. The pair were brought to book by the National Crime Agency. Here is what the investigators have to say:
Colin Williams, branch commander for the NCA for Wales and West, said: “Maros Tancos arrived in the UK from Czech Republic around 2008. He started a new life for himself here and set up a business, ‘Marios Car Wash’.
“Tancos had links back to orphanages and camps in Slovakia and he would regularly travel back to the country. There he would tell people about his life in the UK and promised them transport, a place to live and food and they could join him.
“He knew that these people were desperate to provide for their families and his promises were all things that homeless, broke and destitute people would want to hear. An agreement was put in place that they would be able to keep half of their wages every month, whilst the other half would go towards their food and their living costs. But that’s not what they found when they arrived.
“Instead, they became victims of modern slavery. Tancos’ co-conspirator Joanna Gomulska helped with arrangements to transport the workers to the UK.
“She would take their identity documents and only release them when they were needed for applications such as applications for national insurance numbers or for bank accounts. Gomulska would accompany them to the appointments to open up accounts where she would act as an interpreter and then she would take their cards and take their PIN numbers.
“They had that hold over their victims once their identity documents were under their control. They wanted to make sure the victims had no choice but to do what they required of them as part of the pattern of control.
“They both kept all the victims’ money every month. The money was spent on online gambling, casinos, or buying secondhand cars and they’re own living costs. Victims were left in squalor in Tancos and Gomulska’s home in Bristol, where multiple people shared rooms [and] slept on dirty mattresses. They were sharing one bathroom between 10 people.
“The door to the house was kept locked and victims said that even if they could have unlocked it, they didn’t feel able to have left. Tancos and Gomulska would force the victims to work for free in Tancos’ carwash, called Mario’s on Pen Park Road in Bristol, and then sign them up for other agencies to carry out work in the evenings and on weekends.
“Often they would be told to share identities so they could do work offered by other agencies that they hadn’t signed up for. This work included catching chickens, packing milk and sorting parcels.
“Car washes are known sectors for labour exploitation and modern slavery and we urge the public to look out for signs of modern slavery if they visit. Gomulska became Tancos’ co-conspirator and totally involved in the day-to-day running of his conspiracy.
“Tancos was intimidating and a bully to his victims. Gomulska was more subtle and her control came from the hold she had over their finances.
“Between 2010 and 2017 we found that almost £300,000 had been transferred by Tancos and Gomulska. All money that the victims earned and had been promised to them.”
How did the NCA catch them?
Mark Morrison, of the NCA Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit, said: “The NCA became aware of Mr Tancos and Miss Gomulska following an allegation made by a Slovakian man in 2017, who alleged that he had been exploited by Tancos in his time in the United Kingdom. He returned to Slovakia and complained to colleagues at the Slovakia law enforcement, and made to us through the International liaison team.
“And as a result, we conducted surveillance on both individuals, which revealed that they were transporting their victims not only from their house to the carwash but also to one of the factories in worksites that we found that they had been signed up for through the different employment agencies. We have some footage of this surveillance, transporting victims.
“Alongside our surveillance we made extensive financial inquiries, looking at the individuals and also the potential victims, which showed that Tancos and Gomulska were clearly in control of third party bank accounts. It showed that some of them had been brought to the UK as early as 2010.
“Using those financial records, we gathered CCTV images of them withdrawing cash from various banks in Bristol and also within the casinos that they were members of. All the time the money was coming from accounts in the names of our victims, but used by Tancos and Gomulska for their own lifestyle.
“Following our surveillance and our inquiries, we were in a position to arrest the individuals and subsequently in July 2017 from an address in Brentry Lane, Bristol, Maros Tancos and Joanna Gomulska were arrested for modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking offences and a number of searches were made at both of their properties.
“We discovered in that house five men, all Slovakian, who were initially taken to a reception centre for their own safety. Whilst at the centre the men were seen by healthcare professionals, given medical, physical and psychological support.
“And they were also seen by the NCA victim care team, specialist witness officers who took time in getting their trust and showing them that they will be treated seriously. As one of the officers who went to the house we found it had three bedrooms on the first floor and a makeshift bedroom in the attic.
“All four bedrooms shared one bathroom and one toilet. One bedroom appeared to be unused but still had a dirty and unmade double mattress on the floor. The second had two sets of bunk beds. Both were covered with dirty bedding.
Cash hidden in socks
“The mattresses was so old and broken that layers of cardboard had been used to try and make them stronger and a little bit more comfortable to sleep on. Also in that room, we found SIM cards and small amounts of cash hidden in socks hidden throughout the bedroom, a clear indication that they were treating very, very small items as very important to them.
“There was then a loft ladder which led to the attic space, which had been boarded and plastered. Several worn mattresses were on the floor, which were covered in filthy bedding.
“In those bedrooms, no personal items or electrical goods. There was then a third bedroom on the first floor, the master bedroom as we call it, which was shared by the defendants.
“In contrast to the other rooms this room had a double bed with proper bedding and plenty of electrical goods, chargers, clothes and a large amount of personal items. We located in that room the defendants’ iPhones, which showed that they were behind the applications for employment agencies, bank accounts and multiple loans in their victims’ names.
“The phones also had a number of photographs of the bank cards, all of the PIN numbers and identity documents and, quite telling for the investigation, flight details showing that these victims have been flown into the United Kingdom from Slovakia using accounts linked to our subjects. Mr Tancos was interviewed. He made no comment to most questions.
“Miss Gomulska said she was helping her friend to and from the carwash because she had the car. She said the living conditions for workers were good. There was heating, hot showers and a clean house where they could eat whatever they cooked.”
As part of the National Crime Agency’s investigation, officers interviewed 42 people described as being potential victims of trafficking. Mr Morrison of the NCA continued: “29 of those were prepared to give evidence at the outset.
“Some of those victims were interviewed by NCA officers who flew to Slovakia and with the assistance of our Slovakian law enforcement colleagues we were able to gain their trust and they were able to see that they would be treated seriously. However, there were clearly some that felt that they did not want to speak out and did not trust law enforcement.
“And so some did not give evidence. It’s fair to say we are extremely grateful and thankful to our brave victims that gave us an account of their time whilst dealing with Tancos and Gomulska under their control.
“We’re also extremely thankful to the Slovakian prosecutors who through the arrangements we had through the EU how we got gathered the accounts of our victims who had returned to their country. That continued support when it came to court meant the victims were able to give evidence. We have video links from their homes in Slovakia rather than having to travel back to the United Kingdom.
Victim’s ‘shocking’ account
“The account from the victims are extremely shocking. One describes being put to work seven days a week at the carwash. He said there was not enough food. He was always exhausted and the house was cold.
“He was never paid for his work despite asking for money to send home to his family. He said they slept on a mattress on the floor in the loft or were locked in the house by Tancos every time he left.
“When he complained about working 12 hours a day in a mattress factory and receiving money, Tancos threatened him and said he would die in England. Finally, one of our victims broke his arm in a cycling incident.
“The injury became swollen and green and he was taken to hospital, where it was set in a cast. The next day Tancos had him back to work at the car wash, using his non-broken arm.
“Our two suspects were subsequently charged with several offences related to modern slavery in October 2019 and they chose to deny those offences. Following a number of delays due to the pandemic their trial eventually started at the Bristol Crown Court in January 2022.
“The jury heard evidence from a number of witnesses, including 15 of our victims. After almost three months they were convicted of numerous offences.”
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