Gangmaster couple whose business was 'built on a lie' are jailed
26th June 2015
A Lincolnshire couple who both first entered the UK as illegal immigrants then built up a property empire and successful gangmaster business using a stolen ID have both been handed prison sentences. Sheffield Crown Court heard (FRI pm) that when officers from the GLA were ‘closing in’ on Lithuanian Stasys Skarbalius, he tried to ‘vanish’ his fake identity – as Dutch national Charles Luske – then ‘re-emerge’ as himself. In a landmark conviction described by the judge as ‘the first of its type in the UK’ Skarbalius was handed a two-and-a-half year sentence. His wife, Virinija Skarbaliene (COR), who was complicit throughout, received three years.
They each received concurrent sentences of 18 months for securing and attempting to secure a series of mortgages under the name Luske, while Skarbaliene was handed a separate concurrent nine month term for perverting the course of justice.
The couple were convicted under a previously unused section of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act (s12(2)(b)) relating to possession of a document known to be obtained improperly with the intention of leading people to believe they were properly licensed. It was the first time anyone in the UK has ever been convicted of this crime and the offence was described as the ‘most serious’ indictment of those before the court.
Judge Simon Lawler QC, sentencing, said:
“The sentence is not just a reflection of the public view that serious dishonesty resulting in financial gain should be discouraged but it also sends a clear and unequivocal message that dishonesty in this important area will not be tolerated.
“The GLA relies substantially on honesty in applications. A licence is not a right, it has to be earned and those granted them become responsible for vulnerable people who are often ripe for exploitation.”
He added that there was no evidence of human trafficking or mistreatment of workers and said the sentences would have been more severe had that been the case. Both defendants, of Crown Gardens, Scotter, were also disqualified from being company directors for a period of seven years. The court was told that Skarbalius, aged 60, assumed the fake identity by using Luske’s passport. Inside the document the image had been switched and the height measurement altered.
Andy Peet, prosecuting, explained that Skarbalius had set up CV Staff Services Ltd using the Luske name, secured a GLA licence, opened bank accounts and owned and transferred properties into that name and obtained mortgage advances.
He added that, as Luske, Skarbalius had a profile with HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions, was registered with the NHS and held a UK Driving Licence plus the bank accounts. Skarbalius operated CV Staff Services in Ravendale Street, Scunthorpe, from 2006 onwards together with his wife, Virginija Skarbaliene, aged 56. The court was told that she was complicit throughout, entirely aware that her husband was operating using Luske’s stolen identity.
Mr Peet added that the couple were both ‘willing participants’ in the deception.
“They were both on the same level. They were a team,” he added.
The court was also told that Skarbalius took the ID of Luske because he was being investigated in Lithuania where a European Arrest Warrant had been served and his assets had been frozen. As a result the couple fled to the UK. They were arrested in March 2013 after a joint investigation by the GLA and the East Midlands Regional Asset Recovery Team (EM RART) part of the regional Special Operations Unit.
Earlier this year, Skarbalius admitted nine fraud charges, two of theft, one of obtaining a mortgage by deception and five offences under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act (for possessing a document known to be improperly obtained with the intention of inducing another to believe he was licensed).
Skarbaliene chose to be tried by jury and was found guilty of five identical gangmaster offences, three frauds, two thefts and one count of perverting the course of justice. Mr Peet told the court that CV Staff Services had secured a licence from the GLA to permit the supply workers into the fresh produce sector - predominantly to harvest vegetable crops in the Doncaster area. The licence was renewed in the Luske name four times until 2011 when CV staff Services had grown and had an annual turnover in excess of £1.6 million. Suspicions aroused about the identity of the man named on the licence, GLA inspectors visited CV Staff Services and found some workers referred to their boss as ‘Stasys’, while others called him ‘Charles’.
The court was told how as the GLA closed in, Skarbalius, with the matters in Lithuania discontinued, had tried to get shed the Luske ID and re-emerge as himself to preserve the numerous assets he had built up. These included his successful labour supply agency and four properties purchased using the false ID. He and Skarbaliene attempted to transfer a fraudulently obtained mortgage for his office premises into the name of her niece on the promise of a £12,000 handout and a pay rise. The couple sold their matrimonial home, in Crown Gardens, Scotter, to other family members at an undervalued rate to remove traces of the name of Luske from that property but Skarbaliene continued to pay the mortgage.
Her conviction for perverting the course of justice relates to her providing the name of Dilva Seldin when she committed a traffic offence in 2002 while working in the UK illegally prior to Lithuania’s accession to the European Union.
Dave Powell, Senior Investigating Officer for the GLA, said:
“The first of the GLA’s Licensing Standards states that a person named on a licence must be ‘fit and proper’.
“In this case, however, the defendants created a successful business and property portfolio as well as a very comfortable life for themselves and their family based entirely on fraud, lies and deception.
“Even when we were closing in on the truth about his fake identity, Skarbalius steadfastly refused to concede the truth.
“Tenacious investigative work from GLA officers, however, provided the breakthrough we needed, while additional expertise of the police’s Regional Asset Recovery Team (RART) enabled us to unravel this extremely complex case.
“The GLA prides itself on excellent partnership working and by joining forces with the East Midlands RART team, it was soon established the extent of this couple’s deceit.”
DC Grant Bailey, of the East Midlands Regional Asset Recovery Team (RART), said:
“This has been a very complex investigation for both the RART and the GLA, but, by working in close and effective partnership, we have been able to successfully establish the evidence which has resulted in one person pleading guilty to multiple charges and one other being convicted at trial. “This investigation has demonstrated once again that the RART can offer the specialist investigative skills needed to support regulatory agencies when there are breaches in lawful practice.”
“We will now be pursuing Confiscation Orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act. This should enable us to seize any assets owned by the two convicted persons that have been obtained through criminal conduct.”
Requests for interviews should be directed to GLA Communications and Information Officer Paul Fearn. For more information contact 0115 959 7069 / 07825 797130 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Images of Stasys Skarbalius and Virginija Skarbaliene are available on request.
Notes to editors
1. The GLA operates throughout the UK and is a Non-Departmental Public Body.
2. The authority was formed in 2005 in the wake of the Morecambe Bay cockle picking disaster when 23 Chinese workers drowned on the sands.
3. The GLA licences companies that supply labour (gangmasters) for agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering as well as all associated processing and packaging.
4. Its main strategic priorities are to prevent worker exploitation, protect vulnerable people and tackle unlicensed and criminal activity.
5. Under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act (2004), it is illegal both to operate as, or employ the services of, an unlicensed gangmaster.