Lithuanian national resident in Norfolk has become the first person ever to be sent to prison for an offence under the Gangmasters Licensing Act.
Audrius Morkunas (pictured right) will serve a seven-year sentence after pleading guilty to acting as a gangmaster without a licence, concurrent with two other sentences for related offences.
Morkunas was sentenced in Norwich Crown Court yesterday (9 December) after a joint investigation between the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) and Norfolk Constabulary, which began in February 2011.
Morkunas was arrested in June 2012 and has been on remand in custody for just over a year.
GLA chief executive officer Paul Broadbent (pictured below) says: “I hope this result heralds a new approach from the courts to impose stiffer sentences and sends out a clear warning to illegal gangmasters who flout the law that they will be relentlessly pursued, prosecuted and spend significant periods of time in jail.”
Broadbent has previously complained about what the GLA sees as the courts’ lenient treatment of offenders in this area, and been frustrated at rogue gangmasters being able to “play the system”. Morkunas traded as a gangmaster between January 2009 and September 2012, from June 2010 using a GLA licence obtained from another legitimate gangmaster, who had no knowledge of the fraud and was not implicated in the investigation.
In January 2011, he applied for a GLA licence himself trading as ‘Vilte Ltd’, although the GLA website does not show that application process as having been concluded either way.
He charged Lithuanian workers £400 each for finding them work in local GLA sector industries, including agriculture and chicken processing, in addition to charging them £5 per day for transport he provided.
GLA has found evidence of his supplying over 100 workers, but the unofficial nature of his trading means the actual figure is “probably considerably more”, a spokesperson says.
The GLA says that a number of workers involved in the case have now been employed directly by the farms, while others have found employment with other labour providers elsewhere. Morkunas used physical aggression and violence to control many of his workers, controlling their bank accounts and the accommodation he sub-letted to them.
One 18-month sentence he received resulted from an assault where he beat a worker with an iron bar, captured on CCTV. Two other individuals were handed sentences of less than 12 months for their part in this attack, although one of these was dealt with in his absence as he had absconded.
In addition, his partner was convicted for witness intimidation. Morkunas received a further seven-year sentence for money laundering.
GLA’s Broadbent says: “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.”
Adds a spokesperson for Norfolk Constabulary’s economic crime unit: “This was a complex and sophisticated operation.
Morkunas had put a great deal of groundwork into setting up this far-reaching organised crime group.”