March 11 2014 Latest news:
Peter Walsh, Crime correspondent
Monday, December 9, 2013
A 40 year old man has today been jailed after being convicted after he admitted acting as an unlicensed gangmaster.
Audrius Morkunas, from Grove Road in Melton Constable and a Lithuanian national, had previously pleaded guilty of acting as a gangmaster without a licence and possessing an article for use in fraud, and money laundering.
In addition he was also found guilty, following a trial, of causing actual bodily harm and possession of an offensive weapon.
Morkunas was appeared at Norwich Crown Court today where he was sentenced to a total of seven years by Judge Nicholas Coleman who described him as “the principal person in the economic exploitation of migrant workers”.
Morkunas built up an organised crime group and was responsible for placing a large number of Lithuanians into substandard accommodation that he controlled and sub-let to them.
He charged accommodation at £50 per person per week and £400 for finding them work in local Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) sector industries such as agriculture and chicken processing. £5 per day per person was also charged to the workers for transport he provided.
Morkunas displayed aggression and used violence to control many of the workers, he also controlled the bank accounts that workers opened, as well as taking control of many of the workers ID documents including passports and driving licenses.
The workers invariably built up a ‘debt’ to Morkunas that he used to exploit and control them.
The investigation, which began in February 2011, saw Morkunas arrested in a joint operation with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority in June 2012. Morkunas acted as a gangmaster without a licence between January 2009 and September 2012 and between June 2010 and September 2012 used a copy of a licence belonging to another company.
A number of workers involved in the case have now been employed directly by the farms, while others have found employment with reputable labour providers in different parts of the country.
Speaking after the case, Detective Constable Neil Starland from Norfolk Constabulary’s Economic Crime Unit said: “This was a complex and sophisticated operation.
“Morkunas had put a great deal of ground-work into setting up this far-reaching organised crime group. He is a violent and controlling individual and it’s pleasing to see him convicted.
“The following close liaison, co-operation and team work that took place between Norfolk Constabulary and the GLA in terms of gathering evidence was critical in securing this conviction and sentence.
“Consequently, such productive information-sharing between the two agencies has prompted his organised crime group to be taken to pieces and brings an end to many months of misery to those workers he exploited and controlled.”
“After a lengthy investigation it is pleasing to see him convicted – we, along with our partner agencies, always look to create a hostile environment for those engaging in this type of criminal activity.”
GLA Chief Executive Paul Broadbent added: “The GLA unveiled its updated strategy in June and Audrius Morkunas is precisely the type of individual our fresh approach is designed to tackle - a serious, organised and determined criminal, who continually exploited vulnerable workers over a prolonged period.
“His methods involved charging workers for finding them an ‘honest job for a decent wage’ - the promise of a better life – but his promises were never realised. The stark reality was he drove workers into debt and forced them to work for him illegally to pay it off. He controlled their bank accounts and took possession of their passports and other forms of identification, skimming fees from their meagre wages to pay for the sub-standard accommodation and transport he also provided.
“Morkunas sought to control his workers in many different ways – psychologically, through debt and worse still by violence and threats. I take great satisfaction from the fact that these workers are now free from his aggression and exploitation and that our investigation has resulted in a substantial custodial sentence for this man.”