A husband and wife duo have been jailed at Southwark Crown Court today after being convicted of a series of offences including rape and controlling prostitution for gain involving Romanian women who had been trafficked into the UK.
Detective Sergeant Chris Weatherstone from the Met’s Specialist Crime Command, said: “This lengthy and complex investigation over several years has dismantled an organised crime group (OCG) who were exploiting women in London for their own financial gain.
“Individuals are often reticent or too afraid to come forward in modern slavery investigations, so it is our job to build a prosecution and dismantle OCGs like this with whatever evidence we can. The bravery and courage of the victims in this case to provide evidence against the OCG, helped ensure they were convicted and brought to justice.
“Anyone considering exploiting other human beings for financial gain should expect to face the same level of expert investigation and prosecution.”
The pair were found guilty at the same court following a six-week trial:
Nicusor Gheorghe, 34 (06.02.88) of Cecil Avenue, Barking, was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment after being convicted of:
– Two counts of rape.
– Eight counts of human trafficking.
– One count of trafficking into the UK for sexual exploitation.
– Ten counts of controlling prostitution for gain.
– One count of removing criminal property from England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Rodica Gheorghe, 33 (21.09.88), his wife of the same address, was sentenced five years’ imprisonment for the following:
– Two counts of human trafficking.
– Eight counts of controlling prostitution for gain.
– One count of removing criminal property from England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
A Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order was also issued to Nicusor Gheorghe indefinitely and Rodica Gheorghe for seven years.
Seven of the detectives involved in the case were commended by the Judge during the sentencing hearing.
Detectives from the Met’s Specialist Crime Command began investigating the couple after intelligence was received from the Romanian police, who had intercepted phone calls from 2018.
Met detectives began an extensive operation to discover what activities the Gheorghes were conducting in London. Further to this, officers travelled to Romania to obtain accounts from the victims who had returned there.
At 05:00hrs on Tuesday, 26 March 2019 officers executed a warrant at an address identified as a brothel in Cecil Avenue, Barking. In one locked room they found seven women. Nicusor Gheorghe was found on the ground floor. 14 phones were seized from the property which, when analysed, confirmed they had been used to arrange sexual services.
A second warrant was executed simultaneously at a property in Albert Road, Ilford, which had also been used as a brothel by the Gheorghes. Statements were taken from women and contact continued with them until the trial this year.
Rodica Gheroghe was in Romania at the time of her husband’s arrest. She was detained in Romania and extradited to the UK on a European Arrest Warrant on 13 June 2019, where she was arrested by Met officers.
The court heard how the Gheorghes were a husband and wife team from Romania, who over a nine year period had been involved in the running of sexual services from various addresses in London.
The women who worked in the addresses were mainly of Romanian origin who had travelled from Romania to the UK with the help of the Gheorghes. The Gheorghes would then arrange accommodation for the women and advertise the victim’s sexual services on adult websites.
Ten female victims, aged between 18 and 37 at the time of the offending, were brought to the UK between 2010 and 2019. All the victims explained to officers how they engaged in prostitution for various reasons. They all reported how they needed financial help and felt they had little choice. Some of the women went on to say they did not freely engage in this work and were actively forced by the couple to do so.
The first victim, a women in her late teens, had been friends with the family for years. She had no money of her own and was living with her parents. One day Nicusor Gheorghe invited her for a coffee and offered to take her to London where he could find her work as a waitress. He purchased a ticket for her and they travelled to Ilford via London Victoria.
The following day he informed her the restaurant work was no longer available and he had found her alternative work, having sex with men for money. She declined to do this, but with no money she was unable to return to her family and days later started as a sex worker.
He drove her to a house where other young women were providing sexual services in different bedrooms. The victim was made to see 10 to 15 men a night. She was told how much to charge them and then half of the money was given to a woman at the brothel. The money she had left was then split with Nicusor Gheorghe, giving her around £20 from the £500 plus she had earned in a week. At the end of each shift she was driven back to a single room in Ilford.
Nicusor Gheorghe came to the victim’s room one evening and raped her. He did this more than once, telling her that her family would suffer if she did not do as she was told.
She was finally able to move out of the flat when one evening she met a man to whom she told her story. He helped her to return to Romania, but this was nearly four years later.
Following Nicusor Gheorghe’s financial, born out of exploiting the victim, he went on to operate brothels himself, assisted by his wife, Rodica Gheorghe.
Another victim, aged in her 20’s, travelled from Romania to Italy to work in a restaurant. When she arrived the only work available was sex work. She had a young child who had been put into care in Romania and needed to earn money in order to regain custody of him. Due to her low earnings she was put in touch with Nicusor Gheorghe. He purchased a ticket for to travel from Pisa to Stansted where he picked her up and drove her to a house in Barking, which was being run as a brothel.
Here she spoke with the husband and wife team and they informed her she would not be allowed to keep her earnings, but insisted on a fifty-fifty split. She found she had to work every day between 14:00hrs and 06:00hrs. She was expected to pay £1,000 a week for advertising costs and much more on food and rent.
If the women fell asleep during their hours of work, they were fined £50 by the Gheorghes. The activities of the women working at the brothel were managed by Rodica Gheorghe. A close watch was kept on the women. If they wanted to leave the house Nicusor Gheorghe would drive them in his car. They were not allowed to leave the house during ‘working hours’.
The pair tried to hide their part in trafficking by paying a third party to book the women’s flights for them.
Investigations showed between April 2010 and January 2019 Nicusor Gheorghe had transferred £84,000 and Rodica Gheorghe some £71,000 out of the UK. These funds, which were obtained from the sexual exploitation of others, were sent to others abroad to build property and buy businesses in Romania.
Detective Constable Lore Hancock, from the Met’s Specialist Crime Command, said: “I am a Romanian national who joined the Met as I always wanted to be part of the Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Unit. It pains me to see how many Romanian females are pushed into prostitution due to poverty and lack of education.
“I hope that through my ability to speak their language and understand their culture and customs, I can build a trusting relationship with them, thus preventing them from becoming repeat victims.
“I have been in regular contact with the victims of this case for over two years. Together, with the amazing help and support from International Justice Mission (NGO), we have managed to offer practical help and support, from counselling to social care, housing and even skills courses. It was very emotional hearing the relief in their voices when I told them the verdict.”
Throughout the Covid pandemic our officers have continued to work across London to identify people involved in Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, including forced labour and sexual exploitation. We play a role in protecting and supporting hundreds of victims each year.
We need help from the public as they have an important role to play in recognising and reporting modern slavery. If you suspect someone may be a victim of modern slavery, report it. You will always be taken seriously and protection and support is available.
Often those affected do not see themselves as potential victims of sexual exploitation and many will have been coerced into this life to make money for an organised crime network.
We believe there are victims of modern slavery in every borough across London and the public may encounter them every day, possibly without realising. As well as being sexually exploited, victims have been found working in construction, domestic servitude, agriculture, cannabis factories and in places you use yourself, such as car washes, barbers and nail bars.
Victims are often told the police and authorities in the UK are not to be trusted and with limited English are unable to seek help, even if they want to.
If you suspect that you, or someone you have come into contact with, may be a victim of modern slavery or trafficking and require support, please call The Salvation Army’s 24 hour confidential referral helpline on 0800 808 3733. This is the best way to get support to anyone you suspect might be a victim
You can also report a suspicion or seek advice through the Modern Slavery Helpline confidentially on 08000 121 700. This is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
You can also report to the police online at www.met.police.uk or by calling 101, in case of an emergency dial 999. Alternatively, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at crimestoppers-uk.org.
Quote from a Romanian victim for Click Romania
One of the victims, a woman in her 30s from the county of Ialomita, said: “I have two young children and with a very low salary in Romania we would have been starving. Therefore in 2017 I decided to go to UK and work in the sex industry, hoping that I would be able to offer a better life for my children. I have never done anything like this before and it was very difficult for me, but I did it all for my family and children. I was not mistreated or abused as I had my partner with me all the time and I think that helped. I worked a lot and had to give half of my earnings away. I was led to believe that was something normal, that everyone is doing the same. I only realised this was not right when I started contact with police. I am afraid to think of all the females that have been forced by life to do sex work, just for others to benefit from their hard work. I hope and pray that life will be better for my children and that they won’t be forced to make the same mistakes that I did.
“My experience with the British Police was a really good one. All the officers that have been involved in this case, from beginning to the end, have been very professional and made me feel safe and cared for. I can say that I have only been able to see the case through because of their continuous support and care.”