A gangmaster said to have supplied overseas workers to some 500 UK farms has admitted operating without a licence.
On trial at Swindon crown court, Christopher Blakeney and Marden Management Ltd had both pleaded not guilty to supplying workers to farms without the necessary permits.
But after lengthy legal discussions with the judge about whether or not they had a lawful defence, both changed their pleas to admit the offences.
And the jury, who had only heard evidence from David Nix, head of licensing at the Gangmaster's Licensing Authority, were directed to return guilty verdicts.
The judge will now have to rule on whether any alleged 'exploitation' of the farm workers took place before he passes sentence.
The maximum Mr Blakeney could receive is a ten year jail term and/or an unlimited fine. The company can only be punished with a financial penalty.
Marden Management Ltd, based in Calne, Wiltshire, had illegally supplied workers to about 500 farms, mainly in the dairy industry, the court heard.
Mr Blakeney and Marden Management had argued that they did not require a gangmaster's licence because they, and not the farmers, had paid the staff.
They argued that this made them, rather than the farmers, the end user of the labour.
But Judge Euan Ambrose ruled that was not the case, saying the workers were under the control of the famers regardless of who paid them.
After he delivered his ruling, the defendants considered their position before changing their pleas.
Before passing sentence the judge is to hear evidence about the alleged exploitation of foreign workers: charges which are “hotly disputed” by the defence.
Prosecutors say the labourers were paid less than the agricultural minimum wage and had illegal deductions made from their pay packets including money held as a “bond”.
However the defendants both contest the allegations, which will be decided upon by a judge sitting alone after evidence is called on later this month.
Mr Blakeney, of Conock, near Devizes, and Marden Management Ltd, of Calne, each admit four counts of acting as a gangmaster without the proper licence.
The offending took place between October 2006, when the law was introduced in the wake of the Morecambe Bay tragedy when 21 cockle pickers died, and June 2010.
Brendan Moorhouse, prosecuting, told the jury that Marden had applied for the permit in 2006 but it was refused as they never paid the £2,130 fee.
Despite being warned that they were contravening the regulations when they asked if they were exempt, Mr Moorhouse said Marden kept on with the illicit trade.
Mr Blakeney, of Conock, near Devizes, was released on bail awaiting the next hearing.
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