A band of five Ukrainian brothers sold the American dream to some poor souls in their home country, but after the wannabe laborers arrived in Philadelphia, they were forced to work for little or no pay cleaning stores, offices and homes, and were beaten, threatened and in one case raped, the feds said yesterday.
Most of the victims of the Botsvynyuk brothers were men who had just finished military service in Ukraine and were looking for jobs, authorities said.
They were enticed to come to the U.S. - and did so illegally through Mexico with help from the brothers - with promises they could earn $10,000 after three years, according to an indictment unsealed yesterday.
U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger said the feds believe the brothers victimized about 30 people from fall 2000 to spring 2007. The government has identified eight victims - six men and two women - who have been cooperating.
"The brothers used force and intimidation to keep these people hostage," Memeger said at a news conference.
The feds contend the defendants, led by brother Omelyan Botsvynyuk, 51, forced the victims to work for their cleaning services as part of nighttime crews that cleaned stores such as Target, Kmart and Walmart, and grocery stores and offices in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Two brothers, Dmytro and Mykhaylo Botsvynyuk, were based in Ukraine, recruiting workers who wanted to go to the U.S., according to the indictment. In Ukraine or later in the U.S., the recruits were told they would have to pay a substantial debt, ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.
Memeger said the feds were tipped off to the human-trafficking scheme by an "international source." He said the victims were in their 20s and 30s.
In one case, according to the indictment:
A female victim arrived in Philadelphia around July 2001 and was forced by Omelyan Botsvynyuk to clean houses during the day and offices at night. She lived with other workers in his apartment on Aramingo Avenue near Allegheny in Port Richmond.
Omelyan threatened her by telling her, among other things, that he would "put her in a bag and throw her into the ocean" and let the fish eat her, the indictment says. He also threatened that he would force her daughter, then about 8 years old, to work as a "little prostitute" in Ukraine.
From August 2001 to April 2002, Omelyan raped the woman three times, once after tying her hands with a clothesline and taping her mouth shut, and another time allowing two other men to rape her after he did so, the indictment says.
The woman's husband was also recruited by the brothers and forced to clean supermarkets. Omelyan allegedly forced him into submission by hitting and kicking him.
After the woman and her husband escaped in fall 2002, the brothers threatened the husband's mother and the couple's daughter in Ukraine, the indictment says.
The two other brothers, Stepan Botsvynyuk and Yaroslav Botsvynyuk, aka Yaroslav Churuk, allegedly ran work crews of forced laborers in Philadelphia. Stepan also allegedly housed workers at his home on Madison Street near Mercer in Port Richmond.
Omelyan Botsvynyuk was arrested yesterday in Germany, Stepan, 35, was arrested in Philadelphia, and Mykhaylo, age unknown, and Yaroslav, 41, were arrested in Canada, the feds said.
Prosecutors believe that Dmytro Botsvynyuk is in Ukraine. Ukrainian police are not required to seek his arrest since the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with that country.
The indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to commit racketeering. Omelyan and Stepan Botsvynyuk are also charged with extortion. The FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other agencies investigated this case.
Staff writer Michael Hinkelman contributed to this report.