PHILADELPHIA—Omelyan Botsvynyuk, 52, a Ukrainian national, was sentenced today to life plus 20 years in prison for operating a human trafficking organization that smuggled young Ukrainian immigrants into the United States and forced them to work for little or no pay. Omelyan Botsvynyuk and his brother, Stepan Botsvynyuk, 38, were convicted on October 12, 2011, of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Omelyan was also convicted of extortion. A sentencing hearing for Stepan Botsvynyuk is scheduled for July 17, 2012.
The sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Zane David Memeger, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez, FBI Philadelphia Division Special Agent in Charge George C. Venizelos, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Philadelphia Office Special Agent in Charge John P. Kelleghan.
Between 2000 and 2007, the Botsvynyuks conspired to engage in a pattern of racketeering activity by operating their human trafficking organization. Three other brothers were also indicted in the scheme: Mykhaylo and Dmytro Botsvynyuk are awaiting extradition from Canada; Yaroslav Botsvynyuk is currently a fugitive. The brothers operated cleaning services with workers who were smuggled in from Ukraine and kept in conditions of peonage and forced labor through physical violence and threats of physical violence. Evidence presented at trial showed the brothers recruited workers from Ukraine, promising them good jobs making $500 per month and another $200 or $300 extra for expenses. The workers were told that room and board would be provided to them and that the defendants would handle all of the travel expenses with each worker expected to earn $10,000 after two or three years of working in the United States. Rather than arranging for the workers to travel to the United States legally; however, the brothers had obtained only tourist visas to Mexico. Once in Mexico, the Botsvynyuk Organization had operatives who coached the workers on how to enter the United States illegally by wearing American-style clothing and stating “U.S.” at the Mexican/United States border.
While some of the workers entered the United States, others were taken into custody by U.S. immigration officials, where they remained for almost two months. Once released and provided with immigration documents and summonses to appear for immigration hearings, the Botsvynyuk Organization transported them to Philadelphia, either by bus or by plane. Once in Philadelphia, the immigration documents and return court dates were confiscated from the workers. The workers were put to work cleaning large chain stores, such as Target and Walmart, at nights, as well as smaller stores. Throughout their employment with the brothers, the workers lived up to five people in one room, slept on dirty mattresses on the floor, and were never paid. They were told that they had to work for the brothers until their debts, ranging from $10,000 to $50,000, were paid.
The brothers used physical force, threats of force, sexual assault, and debt bondage to keep the victims in involuntary servitude. The brothers also threatened violence to the workers’ families who still residing in Ukraine. Two female workers testified at trial that Omelyan Botsvynyuk brutally raped them on several occasions. Other victims testified at trial that they were struck and beaten if they attempted to quit or leave the employ of the Botsvynyuk brothers or if they questioned the lack of payment or the broken promises made in Ukraine. Workers were struck in the presence of other workers, which served as a warning to the rest. After some workers escaped, Omelyan Botsvynyuk resorted to extorting the workers’ families in Ukraine, threatening them with mutilation, rape, and death if the workers did not return to work or pay their debts.
“The evidence and testimony presented at trial painted a picture of the defendants’ depravity and inhumane treatment of their victims. This is a case that cries out for justice on behalf of victims who entered this country for better opportunities but then found themselves living a nightmare,” said U.S. Attorney Memeger. “Today’s sentence will ensure that this Botsvynyuk brother, at least, cannot victimize other unsuspecting emigrants. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and with law enforcement in other countries to ensure that every member of this illegal organization is brought to justice.”
“Today’s sentence reflects the serious harm that coercion into labor can cause,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez. “This case, and the years of work that stand behind today’s significant sentence, is one example of the department’s deep commitment to combating labor trafficking, assisting its victims, and prosecuting its perpetrators. Over the past three years, we have brought a record number of labor trafficking cases, and we will continue to prosecute significant labor trafficking cases, ranging from single-victim domestic servitude cases to prosecutions that dismantle transnational organized criminal networks.”
“Human trafficking and forced labor is one of the largest and fastest growing criminal enterprises globally and is a modern form of slavery,” said Special Agent in Charge Venizelos. “These joint investigations are important both because of the personal and psychological toll that human trafficking takes on victims and on society as a whole, and also because it provides a ready source of income to criminals, organized crime groups, and even terrorist organizations from the illegal movement of vulnerable immigrants across national and international borders.”
“The sentence handed down today sends a clear message to those who are involved in human trafficking,” said Special Agent in Charge Kelleghan. “HSI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure that those who commit these heinous crimes are held accountable for their actions.”
The case was investigated by the Joint FBI Organized Crime/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Human Trafficking Alien Smuggling Task Force Federal. Assistance was provided by Pennsylvania State Police, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, Toronto Police Department, German National Police, Berlin State Police, Ukraine Security Service, U.S. National Central Bureau, the Department of Justice Office of International Affairs, and INTERPOL. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel A. Velez and Randy Hsia.