Ukrainian gets life sentence for trafficking workers in U.S

Posted: July 17, 2012

A Ukrainian national was sentenced Monday to life in prison for leading a human-trafficking ring based in Philadelphia that lured its victims into forced labor, cleaning large chain stores such as Wal-Mart and Target.

Omelyan Botsvynyuk, 52, was found guilty in October of conspiracy and extortion. Stepan Botsvynyuk, 38, his brother, was found guilty of conspiracy at the same trial and faces a possible 20 years in prison at his sentencing, scheduled for Tuesday.

Two other brothers, Mykhaylo and Dmytro, also have been indicted in the case and are awaiting extradition from Canada. A fifth brother, Yaroslav, is a fugitive and believed to be hiding in Ukraine, which has no extradition treaty with the United States.

From 2000 to 2007, Omelyan Botsvynyuk ran an organization that smuggled about 30 young Ukrainians to the United States with promises of good jobs with free room and board.

The victims were flown from Germany and Poland to Mexico with tourist visas. There, they were coached by unidentified operatives on how to cross the border into the United States by appearing to be Americans.

They were then shipped to the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia and put to work for the Botsvynyuk brothers' cleaning business. The victims slept on filthy mattresses, sometimes five to a room.

The brothers provided cleaning crews to subcontractors for Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, and Safeway, as well as smaller stores, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Maryland.

Prosecutors said the chains likely were unaware of the status of the workers.

The Botsvynyuk brothers used beatings, sexual assaults, and threats against family members to keep the victims in peonage, forcing them to work to pay off enormous debts the brothers claimed they were owed for bringing the workers to America.

Two women testified that Omelyan Botsvynyuk had raped them several times. He once told the mother of a man who escaped that he would cut off the fingers and ears of the woman's other son in Philadelphia unless she signed over her Ukrainian house as payment.

"The evidence and testimony presented at trial painted a picture of the defendants' depravity and inhumane treatment of their victims," said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger.

"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," Memeger said.

Eight workers cooperated with the prosecution and are eligible for special visas given to victims of human trafficking.

U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond sentenced Omelyan Botsvynyuk to life in prison plus 20 years.


Contact Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com, or follow @RobertMoran215 on Twitter.

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