Two brothers who targeted vulnerable men in Poland and then trafficked them to work in a Sports Direct warehouse have been jailed for six years each. Erwin Markowski, 38, and his brother Krystian, 35, have been convicted under the Modern Slavery Act after trafficking 18 people to the UK.
The brothers, from Nottingham, conned and threatened the men, who had their passports confiscated and their wages stolen after they had found work at Sports Direct's Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire. They had used Transline, an outsourcing group that supplied agency staff to Sports Direct, to gain employment.
Nottingham Crown Court heard how the brothers even employed a "spotter" to identify vulnerable people and send them to the UK on the promise of work and a place to stay.
The Markowski brothers paid for the men to get to the UK and when they arrived they would open up bank accounts for the men on their behalf from which they would withdraw the lion's share of their income. The court heard how some victims were left with about £90 ($112) a week when they should have received £265.
The brothers, who made an estimated £35,000 from the scheme, were caught after one of the victims reported his ordeal to police in January 2016. Officers then raided a home in the city.
They have now been jailed for six years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to arrange travel with a view to exploitation and fraud by false representation. They were also handed a two-and-a-half year sentence for fraud to run concurrently.
The victims were said to be "totally isolated" and were treated like "rubbish" after arriving in Great Britain. During the sentencing, Judge Stephen Coupland said it was a "planned and systematic" scheme of "human trafficking".
He said, according to the BBC: "You employed a spotter in Poland to identify people who were vulnerable. Your intention, by selecting vulnerable people, was to make it easier to control them over here. You controlled their ability to contact others by using physical and verbal threats, using actual violence on occasions."
Chief crown prosecutor Janine Smith said: "The Markowskis preyed on vulnerable people in Poland and promised them accommodation and a tempting wage in order to lure them to the UK. The reality upon arrival was a life of squalid living conditions and near total control by the defendants."
A spokesperson for Sports Direct said: "We welcome the conviction of these two individuals, who were brought to justice after being reported to police by the Transline agency and Sports Direct in February 2016. It sends a clear message that we will not tolerate these kinds of behaviour."