PHILADELPHIA – A Ukrainian man was sentenced Monday to life in prison for operating a human trafficking organization which smuggled young Ukrainian immigrants into the United States and forced them to work for little or no pay. The sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger, Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) as part of the Joint FBI Organized Crime/ICE Human Trafficking Alien Smuggling Federal Task Force.
Omelyan Botsvynyuk, 52, a Ukrainian national, was sentenced by U.S District Judge Paul S. Diamond. Omelyan and his brother, Stephan, 38, were convicted October 12, 2011 of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Omelyan was also convicted of extortion.
"The sentence handed down today sends a clear message to those who are involved in human trafficking," said Special Agent-in-Charge John P. Kelleghan, of Homeland Security Investigations Philadelphia. "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."
According to court records, 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 into the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 at night, such as Target and Wal-Mart, 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 workers' families 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 Pennsylvania State Police, 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 assisted in the investigation.