Two brothers who brought people into the country and condemned them to a life of misery have each been jailed for six years.
A jury convicted burly Josef and Marian Dzuga of conspiracy to traffic people into the United Kingdom for exploitation.
Judge Philip Statman told them: “Exploitation of fellow human beings in any of the ways criminalised by the legislation I am concerned with represents deliberate degrading of fellow human beings.
“In the 21st century in the United Kingdom forced labour is a very real problem. I emphasise that those subjected to it will receive the full protection of the law.
“When offences come to light it is clear immediate and substantial sentences will be called for.”
Maidstone Crown Court heard the pair, who live in Medway, promised others from their country a better life in the UK, but were actually exploiting them.
They provided employment at recycling plants and fruit farms and accommodation.
But the brothers, who are both over 20 stone, did not allow them live and work as they pleased.
“Where they worked and how they lived was controlled by the Dzuga brothers,” said prosecutor Caroline Carberry. “This control was maintained by their ID documents being taken from them.
“Their bank cards were also taken from them. They had no access to bank accounts which had been opened in their names.
“They were isolated because unlike the brothers they did not speak English. Some had been vulnerable homeless men in their own country.
“They received only a small amount of money from their hard-earned wages - a fraction, a pittance. They could neither save nor spend money.
The Dzuga brothers sent people to work in fruit farms for very low pay. Stock picture
“They lived in poor accommodation. They were threatened with being returned to Slovakia if they didn’t comply with the demands. They had little choice but to rely on them in order to survive in this country.”
Miss Carberry said the trafficking for exploitation happened over many years.
“They were in this as a business - an illegal business of bringing people into the country to exploit those who were desperate to work here and achieve a better life for themselves and their family,” she said.
“There was nothing charitable or generous about what they were doing. Their motivation was purely financial gain for themselves.”
Jozef Dzuga, 37, of Salisbury Road, Chatham, and Marian Dzuga, 38, of Windsor Road, Gillingham, denied the allegations.
Miss Carberry said following conviction on Tuesday: “Josef Dzuga has moved a substantial amount of money - tens of thousands of pounds from an account into a post office account in the name of a family member.”
Judge Statman said he was satisfied there was a high degree of sophistication and planning in committing the offence.
The harm suffered could be physical, psychological or financial.
“Each of you received substantial financial gain by preying on fellow members of the Slovakian community new to this country,” he said.
“There is not one victim so vulnerable to exploitation that he or she becomes invisible or unknown, or someone beyond the protection of the law.”
Judge Philip Statman at Maidstone Crown Court
One woman, aged 25, came into the UK with her mother and paid a “bond” totalling £900. She was charged a £50 fee whether she was working or not and they were housed in miserable conditions.
Threats were made - leave the control of the Dzugas’ and face homelessness and unemployment. Nobody would employ them.
A Slovakian man told in graphic detail of the long shifts he worked but had no idea what he was earning. His mail was retained and only read by him under direction.
“Substantial amounts of his hard-earned cash never got to him,” said the judge.
“I accept on the face of it neither of you had a palatial lifestyle. Both of you were gambling - no doubt gambling the ill-gotten gains of those you were exploiting.”
Judge Statman added: “A firm message must go out to traffickers that this country will not tolerate this type of behaviour.”
A confiscation hearing will be held to determine benefit.