Worker in field picking vegetablesLibrary photo © Tim Scrivener

A gangmaster couple, who were jailed in 2015 in a landmark conviction, have been ordered to repay more than £400,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).

Stasys Skarbalius, 60, and Virginija Skarbaliene, 56, operated as illegal gangmasters between 2006 and 2010, facilitating hundreds of people into work in the agricultural and horticultural industries in Lincolnshire and Humberside, across Yorkshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridge.

The couple entered the UK as illegal immigrants before building up a property empire and successful vegetable-picking business with an estimated turnover of £12m.

See also: Illegal gangmasters convicted in Cambridgeshire

Virginija Skarbaliene and Stasys Skarbalius

Virginija Skarbaliene and Stasys Skarbalius

They set up Scunthorpe-based business CV Staff Services under a fake identity and applied for licences from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA).

But the sham was exposed in 2011 when Mr Skarbalius’ bogus Dutch passport, which he held under the name of Charles Rene Luske, expired and he was unable to renew it for the purposes of the annual licence.

Following a joint investigation by the GLA and the East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU) the pair, originally from Lithuania, were convicted in June 2015.

The conviction was the first of its kind in the UK under a previously unused section of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act relating to possession of a document known to be obtained improperly with the intention of leading people to believe they were properly licensed.

Lavish lifestyle

Both of no fixed address, Mr Skarbalius, was jailed for two-and-a-half years and Mrs Skarbaliene for three years. They were also disqualified as company directors for seven years.

On Monday (9 January), Sheffield Crown Court heard how they lived lavish lifestyles and had each received total benefits of £1m from their criminal exploits.

They were served with confiscation orders under POCA on their available assets — £187,219.85 for Mr Skarbalius and £231,687.68 for Mrs Skarbaliene.

A judge ordered the couple to pay the criminal proceeds within three months – or they would face an additional two years and three months in jail.

Assets seized 

The assets included substantial bank account balances, recovered cash, a Mercedes Sprinter van, a Lexus Sport, a Volkswagen Transporter van, their four-bedroom detached home in Scotter, Lincolnshire, two three-bedroom houses occupied by tenants in Scunthorpe, and their Scunthorpe business premises.

Speaking after the case, Detective Constable Grant Bailey, from EMSOU’s regional asset recovery team, said: “Mr Skarbalius and Mrs Skarbaliene enjoyed a lifestyle of big houses, lavish holidays and access to substantial amounts of cash thanks to their lucrative business, which had its origins steeped in lies.

“It’s hard to reconcile the stark contrast to their agency workers, who earned just above the minimum wage and undertook honest days of manual labour at farms across Lincolnshire and the Humber to get by in this world. Clients who were potentially left unemployed when the truth was revealed.”

The Home Office is considering deporting the pair.