Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)– An indictment unsealed earlier this week in Philadelphia charged Omelyan Botsvynyuk, Stepan Botsvynyuk, Mykhaylo Botsvynyuk, Dmytro Botsvynyuk, and Yaroslav Botsvynyuk, a/k/a Yaroslav Churuk, with extortion and conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for their alleged involvement in a human trafficking operation, the Justice Department announced.
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas E. Perez, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk of the Philadelphia Field Office and ICE Special Agent-in-Charge John P. Kelleghan announced the indictment.
Four of the Botsvynyuk brothers were arrested June 30 and are charged with conspiring to engage in a pattern of racketeering activity, from the fall of 2000 through the spring of 2007, by operating a human trafficking organization that smuggled young Ukrainian migrants into the United States and forced them to work for the brothers with little or no pay.
According to the indictment, the defendants allegedly promised the victims they would earn $500 per month with free room and board by working for the Botsvynyuk organization. They allegedly smuggled the workers into the United States and put them to work as cleaning crews in retail stores, private homes, and office buildings without paying them. They allegedly used physical force, threats of force, sexual assault, and debt bondage to keep the victims in involuntary servitude. The indictment further alleges that even after some of the victims escaped, the defendants continued with their extortionist activities in order to recoup the organization’s investment in the workers. If direct threats failed and the workers did not return or make good on their debts, the Botsvynyuk brothers threatened violence to the workers’ families still residing in Ukraine. In one instance, according to the indictment, Omelyan Botsvynyuk threatened to place a worker’s then 9-year-old daughter into prostitution to pay off the family debt.
“Human trafficking is a scourge that denies human beings their fundamental right to freedom. Those who prey on the most vulnerable through force, fraud, or coercion will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Assistant Attorney General Perez. “The Civil Rights Division will continue to work with U.S. Attorney’s Offices nationwide, law enforcement agencies across the globe, and victim assistance organizations to vindicate the rights of victims, bring traffickers to justice, and dismantle human trafficking networks.”
“The victims in this case entered this country with dreams of great opportunity only to find themselves living a nightmare,” said U.S. Attorney Memeger. “They trusted this band of brothers, they performed the work they were told, only to be rewarded with false promises, threats of brutality, and deprivation of their basic human needs. No one trying to immigrate to this country should have to endure such mistreatment.”
Rather than bringing the workers to the United States legally, the indictment alleges that the Botsvynyuk organization obtained tourist visas to Mexico and had operatives who coached the workers on how to enter the United States illegally. While some of the workers successfully entered the country, others were taken into custody by U.S. immigration officials and remained in detention for almost two months. Once the victims were released, with immigration documents and summonses to appear for immigration hearings, the Botsvynyuk organization transported them to Philadelphia either by bus or by plane. The brothers then confiscated the immigration documents and summonses from the workers and put them to work at night cleaning large chain stores, such as Target and Walmart, as well as smaller stores.
Throughout their employment with the brothers, the workers lived with up to five people in one room, slept on dirty mattresses on the floor, and were rarely, if ever, paid. None of the victims was paid what was promised and they were told that they had to continue working until their debts, ranging from $10,000 to $50,000, were paid. Workers were allegedly struck and beaten, sometimes in the presence of others, if they attempted to quit or leave the employ of the Botsvynyuk brothers. According to the indictment, one female worker was brutally raped on several occasions. After some workers escaped, Omelyan Botsvynyuk resorted to extorting the workers’ families in Ukraine, threatening them with harm if the workers did not return to work or pay their debts.
Omelyan Botsvynyuk, 51, was arrested in Germany; Stepan Botsvynyuk, 35, was arrested in Philadelphia; Mykhaylo and Yaroslav Botsvynyuk, 41, were arrested in Canada. Dmytro Botsvynyuk remains in Ukraine, a country that has not entered into an extradition treaty with the United States. The defendants in Canada and Germany were arrested pursuant to Interpol arrest warrants and are in the process of being extradited to the United States to face the charges.
If convicted of all charges, the defendants face the following maximum penalties: Omelyan Botsvynyuk—life in prison and a $750,000 fine; Stepan Botsvynyuk—40 years in prison and a $500,000 fine; and defendants Mykhaylo, Dmytro, and Yaroslav Botsvynyuk—20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The case was investigated by the Joint FBI Organized Crime/ICE Human Trafficking Alien Smuggling Task Force. Assistance was provided by Pennsylvania State Police, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Department of Labor and Racketeering – 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. Attorney Daniel A. Velez, and Trial Attorney Eric Gibson of the Civil Rights Division.