Wednesday, July 7, 2010

5 Ukrainian brothers charged with human trafficking in Philly

Four Ukrainian brothers are under arrest and a fifth is being sought on charges that for seven years they staffed their Philadelphia cleaning business with illegal immigrants kept in virtual bondage by threats, intimidation and rape.

U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger said the brothers found the mostly male workers in their native Ukraine, and smuggled them in through Mexico with the promise of a legitimate job.

Instead, they worked 16 hour days cleaning retail and grocery stores and were paid little, if anything. The crimes are alleged to have occurred between 2000 and 2007.

Memeger described the brothers as "human smugglers" who kept the workers in "involuntary servitude."

One smuggled immigrant, a woman, was repeatedly raped by the oldest brother "in order to keep her in control" said Memeger. He was identified as Moylan "Milo" Botsvynyuk, 51, who was arrested Wednesday in Germany on an Interpol warrant and will be returned to the United States.

The Botsvynyuks brothers confiscated the victims travel documents, and housed them five or six to a room as they were shuttled between jobs in New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Washington D.C.

Moylan Botsvynyuk ran work crews out of a residence on the 3200 block of Aramingo Avenue, in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, court records say. The home, a former retail shop, is in a neighborhood of well-kept row houses. The brothers also housed work crews in other nearby houses.

About 30 victims were brought into the country illegally. Eight of the victims - two women and six men - have been identified and are cooperating with investigators, Memeger said. They will likely be allowed to remain in the country legally.

"They are all recovering from a very traumatizing experience," said FBI Special Agent Ned Conway.

One brother, Stepan Botsvynyuk, 35, was arrested in Philadelphia and was ordered held without bail pending a hearing next week. The other brothers had left the country after 2007 when the cleaning business was closed.

Two of them, Mykhaylo Botsvynyuk and Yaroslav "Slavko" Churuk, 41, were arrested by Canadian police. Dmytro Botsvynyuk is in Ukraine, which does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.

All the brothers were unaware of the investigation until law enforcement officials in the three nations swept in and placed them under arrest, said FBI Assistant Special Agent-In-Charge Douglas E. Linquist.

The cleaning business in Philadelphia operated under a variety of names, and provided night time work crews at large and small grocery stores, and chains including Target, KMart, Walmart and Safeway.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel A. Velez said the large discounters did not hire the immigrants directly, and were likely unaware of their status.

Many of the victims were fresh out of the Ukrainian military and looking for a better life overseas. But upon arrival, the workers were told they owed at least $10,000 to the Botsyynyuk brothers, and had to work for essentially no pay until that debt was considered paid off.

After some workers escaped, the brothers "resorted to. . .threats to the workers families in Ukraine." One worker was told an eight-year-old daughter in the Ukraine would be forced into prostitution.

The investigation was conducted by the U.S. attorney's office, the FBI, Immigration and Customers Enforcement and state and local police.

The brothers had all entered this country on tourist visas, but overstayed the time limit, law enforcement officials said.

Memeger and Lindquist said the investigation, which started in 2005 with a tip from overseas, was lengthy because of language barriers, fear, and a mistrust of American police after experiences with law enforcement in their homeland.

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