Jail for Romanian who kept trafficking victims 'living like rats'
A Romanian delivery driver who pocketed his trafficking victims' wages and kept them in conditions suitable for rats has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
Ioan Lacatus, a 33-year-old from Hanover Street in Portadown, Co Armagh, called himself the Minister and used his considerable bulk to intimidate the vulnerable.
He pleaded guilty to five counts of trafficking people into the UK for exploitation and similar offences.
A dozen trafficked migrants from Romania and a number of others shared a three-bedroom house in Portadown and were sent to work at local factories, a judge at Craigavon Crown Court said.
Lacatus, who has a string of previous fraud convictions in Europe, pocketed around £3,500 a week in wages from his uneducated prey.
Judge Patrick Lynch QC said: "The nature of your offending revealed you to be a greedy, ruthless and manipulative individual, relying on your physical size and aggressive personality to try to intimidate your victims."
They had been encouraged to come to Northern Ireland for well-paid jobs and a new life and hoped to send money home to their impoverished families.
Instead they were forced to work up to 70 hours a week at local factories for weeks on end and lived in degrading conditions in one three bedroom house, sharing one bathroom with no toilet paper and little food.
One woman was told to eat stones when the food ran out, police said.
Mattresses were on the floor of every room and migrants were told not to talk to other workers or leave the house.
Judge Lynch added: "It seems there was also an element of stupidity in your offending in that you could have made a good living by treating your victims with some degree of decency rather than subjecting them to degrading and humiliating treatment."
A total of 12 people were rescued after they contacted police in August 2014.
The judge said: "The living conditions were characterised by one of the victims as living like rats."
The migrants were collected from Dublin Airport by Lacatus and his brother-in-law Samuil Covaci, who police believe acted as a minder. Their passports were taken.
Lacatus watched the house on Charles Street in Portadown from his car wash business across the street.
The victims were transported to and from work by Lacatus and Samuil Covaci.
They claimed they never received any wages and had to beg Lacatus for pocket money.
The paperwork they had unwittingly filled in gave permission for their wages to be paid directly into the bank accounts of Lacatus and his wife Christina Nicoleta Covaci.
Christina Covaci, 31, was given a suspended 12-month prison sentence.
Samuil Covaci, 25, from Tandragee Road in Portadown, was handed a conditional discharge.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Detective Superintendent John McVea, the senior officer investigating human trafficking, said: "The harrowing accounts of these Romanian victims should serve as an alarm call to everyone in our society that human trafficking is happening right under our noses.
"These victims lived in an ordinary street and worked in an ordinary factory. But they had to endure extraordinary deprivation."
A police spokesperson said: "The current occupants of 241 Charles Street, Portadown and the owner are not connected to this case."