Car wash slavery ringleaders jailed for 25 years

A couple who kept vulnerable immigrants as slaves and made them work for free at a car wash business in Bristol have been jailed for a total of 25 years

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Maros Tancos and Joanna Gomulska, both 46, were the ringleaders of a modern slavery and human trafficking operation in the city, persuading vulnerable people to travel from Slovakia to work for them.

Tancos was today sentenced to sixteen years in prison and Gomulska was handed a nine-year term at Bristol Crown Court.

The court heard how Tancos would use his links to orphanages and camps in Slovakia to recruit victims, promising them transport, a place to live and food, and a better life. Victims were told they would get to keep half of their wages every month, whilst the other half would go towards food and living costs.

However, on arrival, victims were kept in squalor in the couple’s three bedroom home in Bristol and forced to work for free. They told how they were locked in the house and how identity documents and mobile phones were taken from them.

Maros Tancos and Joanna Gomulska
Maros Tancos and Joanna Gomulska

The court also heard how Tancos’s co-conspirator, Gomulska, helped with arrangements to transport workers to the UK.

She would take their identity documents and only release them when they were needed for applications like National Insurance numbers or bank accounts.

Gomulska would accompany victims to appointments and would act as their interpreter before taking their bank cards and pin numbers.

Victims would work at Tancos’s car wash business during the day and would then be sent out to other jobs at night including catching chickens, packing milk or sorting parcels.

National Crime Agency investigators found that Tancos and Gomulska failed to pay over £900,000 in wages.

The pair also transferred almost £300,000 from their victims' accounts earnt whilst working at the secondary jobs. Officers discovered that all of the money was spent on Tancos and Gomulska’s living costs, gambling online or in casinos and on second hand cars.

Their victims told how Tancos would be violent towards them, with some describing being threatened or hit. They said they were too scared to leave the property and on many occasions were locked inside.

NCA officers began an investigation in 2017 and traced Tancos and Gomulska’s offending back to 2010. The couple were kept under surveillance as they transported their victims to and from the car wash and to other jobs around Bristol.

A total of 42 victims were interviewed by specialist officers and 29 gave evidence of the abuse they suffered in court. Victims described their time with the defendants as ‘catastrophic’ and said they were humiliated, hit and punished by Tancos.

Another described returning to Slovakia when she fell pregnant, with her child being born malnourished and suffering epileptic fits because she could not afford food.

One victim described the house as a ‘gate to hell’ and said they were not allowed to leave. They said: “The only thing I knew was work. All the time I was thinking that I was a slave there. I thought there was no way back.”

Tancos and Gomulska denied a number of modern slavery and human trafficking offences but following a trial lasting almost three months and with evidence from 15 victims, they were convicted in April.

NCA Branch Commander Colin Williams said: “Our investigation has put these two cruel abusers behind bars for a long time. Tancos and Gomulska’s vulnerable victims were kept as prisoners and treated with utter contempt, despite promises of a better life in the UK.

“Victim testimonies showed the mental and physical scars they still carry from their treatment by the couple.

“Tackling human trafficking and modern slavery is a high priority for the NCA, and we hope this result will bring some closure to the victims.”

Safeguarding Minister Rachel Maclean said: “Tackling modern slavery is a top priority for me, and we must ensure that victims are provided with the support they need to begin rebuilding their lives, and that criminals who cruelly exploit people for commercial gain are prosecuted.

“We have given enforcement bodies the power and resources to take on gangs who profit from modern slavery, and thanks to the incredible work of the NCA, these criminals have now been brought to justice.”