Three sentenced following human trafficking investigation
Three people have been sentenced at Bristol Crown Court today (June 5) following a South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SW ROCU) investigation into the trafficking of women from Brazil to work in a Cheltenham-based brothel.
Mark Viner, 62, was extradited from his villa near Barcelona last December and has been remanded in custody since. He pleaded guilty today to two counts of human trafficking, one count of keeping a brothel for prostitution and one count of laundering the proceeds of other criminal activity to the value of £388k. He was sentenced to a total of five years and nine months. A further asset confiscation investigation will now follow under the Proceeds of Crime Act. At the time of the investigation, Viner rented three penthouse apartments at Millennium Plaza in Cheltenham, one as his former home, one as a brothel and another as the home of co-defendant Lezlie Davies.
Lezlie Davies, 61, from 22 Millennium Plaza, Cheltenham, and Rosana Gomes, 45, of High Six Gardens in Patchway, Bristol, both pleaded guilty to assisting in managing the Millennium Plaza brothel. They both received 12-month community orders, a ten-week curfew and were ordered to pay £500 costs. A Confiscation Order was made for Gomes to pay £18k that she made through arranging women’s appointments there.
The investigation began in January 2018 after an anonymous letter was received by Gloucestershire Police which detailed allegations against Mark Viner and Lezlie Davies.
Since then, specialist teams at the SW ROCU have worked to gather extensive evidence which led to today’s guilty pleas.
Detective Inspector Peter Highway from the SW ROCU said: “These women were simply commodities to this group. Mark Viner sourced the trafficked women in Brazil and brought them over to the UK to be sex workers, charging them for using the apartment; Lezlie Davies, who had established a lucrative niche for himself creating and managing women’s online profiles, arranged for his ‘clients’ to work from the brothel; and Rosana Gomes acted like a receptionist, managing their bookings there.
“We believe hundreds of women have worked there, the majority of whom were Brazilian. When we tracked some of them down who had moved on to work in brothels in other areas of the country, they gave accounts of being raped at knifepoint and robbed by groups of organised criminals while in the UK. That is the very dark world traffickers like Mark Viner are bringing women into and it’s why it’s so important we continue to break the cycle. They come on a promise of a better life, are too afraid to seek help as they’re here illegally, and endure horrendous physical and psychological abuse – all while adding to the profits of their exploiters.
“Mark Viner lived a lavish lifestyle on a very moderate income. In addition to the payments from the women to use his flat he has admitted to receiving £388k which were the proceeds of other crime. We will now be looking at every penny he has paid in through his various bank accounts during the past six years and all of his assets. Anything he can’t account for, we’ll look to confiscate under the Proceeds of Crime Act to ensure he no longer reaps the benefit for his part in what is essentially an international trade in human misery.”
The convictions follow a two-year investigation by the SW ROCU working closely with the CPS and supported by officers from Gloucestershire and Avon & Somerset police forces and Europol.
Gloucestershire Constabulary’s lead for human trafficking Chief Inspector Hannah Mackie said: “I would like to echo the comments of my regional colleagues.
“We are acutely aware of the damage that trafficking and criminal exploitation causes to both the individual concerned and the communities they live in and are working closely with partner agencies to disrupt offenders and make the county a hostile place in which to operate.
“Our efforts are primarily concerned with finding and safeguarding potential victims and to increase our awareness of how criminals are operating.
“We will always seek to investigate and prosecute those who treat human life as a commodity and I would like to thank the individuals who spoke up about the offences that were committed as part of this case.
“A letter that was sent by a concerned individual started this investigation and led to today’s successful conviction of Mark Viner, Lezlie Davies and Rosana Gomez.
“I would like to encourage anyone who has concerns about human trafficking or modern day slavery to let us know so that we can locate the individuals and offer safeguarding.”
Howard Phillips, Senior Crown Prosecutor, said: “Prosecuting modern slavery offences remains a priority for the Crown Prosecution Service and this case demonstrates that we will work with our partners in other countries to bring offenders to justice in the UK.
“In December 2019, a European Arrest Warrant and European Investigation Order were executed simultaneously at Mark Viner’s villa in Spain. We are very grateful for the support and continued assistance of the Spanish Authorities and the CPS’s Liaison Magistrate in Madrid.
“Once Mark Viner was back in the UK we authorised charges against his co-accused, who assisted his offending.
“He will not be able to benefit from his offending, we will pursue confiscation proceedings to recover the proceeds of crime.”
Anyone with suspicions about this illegal activity, either victims, offenders or locations, is encouraged to report it to police on 101 or 999 if a crime is in progress.
If you need help or you think someone may be the victim of modern slavery or exploitation, you can also call the confidential UK Modern Slavery Helpline, which is open 24/7, on 08000 121 700 or visit their website
Learn to spot the signs of modern slavery, including sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, domestic servitude, criminal exploitation and child exploitation
You can also report any suspicions to independent charity Crimestoppers. They never ask for your personal information and do not track your device. You can call them on 0800 555 111 or fill in their anonymous online form.