Dozens of teenage girls have been trafficked and exploited to commit acts of fraud by an organized crime group in what is believed to be the first modern slavery case of its kind in UK law.
Four members of a criminal enterprise based in Cambridge, London and Essex have been convicted of modern slavery and fraud offenses after at least 30 vulnerable girls aged 14-17 were recruited and used to carry out theft and fraud for the gang over a period of more than two years.
Most of the victims were recruited via social media while housed in foster placements or semi-independent living facilities, and many suffered from abandonment issues or had learning difficulties such as ADHD. It is thought that the gang targeted girls with existing vulnerabilities.
The girls would be driven to established retailers across the UK and told to ask for refunds on high-value items using fake receipts and barcodes produced by Isaiah Olugosi, 38, who orchestrated the operation. They were also sometimes told to shoplift high-value goods.
On 20 May 2021, Olugosi, of Lower Road in Cambridge, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to arrange or facilitate the travel of children for the purposes of exploitation, two counts of conspiracy to defraud, money laundering and possession of articles for use in fraud at Snaresbrook Crown Court.
It is believed to be the first time the Modern Slavery Act has been applied to a fraud enterprise in UK law.
The UK’s independent anti-slavery commissioner Dame Sara Thornton said she welcomed the use of the Modern Slavery Act legislation to deal with this “substantial and serious exploitation of vulnerable people”.
“It is really encouraging to see police and prosecutors using the trafficking legislation rather than opting for lower level offenses which might be easier to provide,” she added.
Olugosi’s victims would often be missing for several days, committing fraud during the day – driven by the gang on pre-planned routes to target branches of each retailer – and being housed in hotels each night, where gang members are alleged to have sexually exploit at least two of them.
A typical day would include theft and fraud from over ten stores, making thousands of pounds per ‘route’ for the gang. The funds gained were laundered through at least 100 UK bank accounts, often in the girls’ names or those of adults with mental health problems and other vulnerabilities.
In a statement to the court, one of the victims, who has ADHD and a personality disorder, said: “My bank accounts have since been closed due to the amount of refunds that they put through my account. I can no longer receive my disability allowances and this now has to be paid into my mum’s bank account. This whole situation has been playing on my mind, it has affected me mentally.”
Another victim said: “I look back at that whole time and feel I was stupid and vulnerable and taken advantage of […] I am shocked that they have been getting away with this for so many years. It’s like they are the mafia.”
Sergeant Pj Jones, of the Metropolitan Police’s Predatory Offender Unit, who worked on the case, said text messages showed the defendants talking about the girls “as if they were cattle”.
“The way they were discussing the girls was as a commodity. It was, ‘we haven’t fed them yet’. ‘What are you gonna feed this one?’ and ‘That one belongs to me, that one’s my one. No, no, you get your own girls, I’ve got mine girls in this route’,” he told The Independent.
One girl alleged that she began a sexual relationship with Olugosi when she was 17 years old and that he hid from her the fact that he was married. She took an overdose the day she decided to stop working for him, she told the court while giving evidence.
The criminal group yielded approximately £500,000 in profits as a result of the large-scale fraud conspiracy between January 2018 and March 2020.
To evade authorities, mobile telephones and vehicles were registered at addresses of adults with mental health or severe learning difficulties.
Olugosi lived with his wife Holly, 31, in Cambridgeshire and from at least January 2018 began making money by targeting two retailers, Tesco and Boots, using fraudulent receipts and printed barcodes produced at his home. Bank data shows proceeds of crime entering the accounts as far back as 2013.
The operation was too large for one person to control alone and Olugosi quickly began to build up a network of trusted associates including ‘team leaders’ and ‘drivers’ who were willing to take part in this criminal enterprise across the country.
Two of his ‘team leaders’, Eva Dambrauskaite and Baran Karamagara, were tasked with recruiting and managing the vulnerable young girls. They would approach them on the street or by Snapchat or other social media.
Once one girl had done one ‘route’ she would be paid £100 and told she would get an additional £50 if she brought a friend next time. “They would insinuate themselves into different peer groups and just work through them,” said Sergeant Jones.
Over the course of her husband’s highly profitable criminal enterprise, Holly Olugosi spent large sums of money on luxury items including cosmetic surgery, tanning sessions, a new Mercedes, luxury holidays, and even a fridge costing £2,500.
She pleaded guilty to money laundering at Snaresbrook Crown Court on 20 May 2021.
Karamagara, 22, of Tottenham, London, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to arrange or facilitate the travel of children for the purposes of exploitation and two counts of conspiracy to defraud at Snaresbrook Crown Court on 17 December 2021.
Dambrauskaite, 21, of Palmerston Road in Essex, was found guilty on 12 February 2021 after a three-week trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court of both counts of fraud, modern slavery, possession of articles for use in fraud and money laundering (all charges) .
Officers from the Met’s Predatory Offender Unit were first alerted to the actions of this organized crime group after receiving intelligence from partners within Children’s Services and when offenses were highlighted by the retailers who had been targeted.
Beginning in March 2020, Predatory Offender Unit officers executed a number of search warrants in London, Essex and Cambridge where they seized evidence including printers, computer equipment, fake receipts, bar codes, cash and devices used to communicate with the girls.
Sergeant Jones said: “This is a serious case involving the criminal exploitation of a large number of juvenile girls spanning many years. Olugosi and others were too cowardly to execute their own crimes, and actively recruited girls with obvious vulnerabilities. They insinuated themselves through peer groups of vulnerable people using them to commit fraud and using their accounts to launder money.
“This was a protracted investigation which involved countless inquiries, witness statements and searches of premises to secure evidence from offenses as widely spread as Glasgow and Devon. Throughout the proceedings, all of the suspects in this case did everything they could to conceal evidence, minimize their own involvement and delay justice.
“I am thankful to the staff from both retailers for highlighting this case as a safeguarding concern from the outset, voicing concerns about the ages of the girls involved.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.