In mid-2008, Janos Farkas was offered a construction job in Canada, working for a man named Attila Kolompar, an acquaintance from his home village in western Hungary. The work, he was told, would provide enough money to send back $100 every month to his son. He accepted.
But the reality of his new life was harsh, a court heard. Made to live with two other men in a cramped basement room of Mr. Kolompar's house in a quiet residential area in Hamilton, he worked 14-hour days plastering stucco in a Burlington subdivision. In the evenings, he and his co-workers scrubbed floors, cleaned toilets and washed dishes for his boss. They subsisted off scraps from the table. When he became weak and had trouble working, he said Mr. Kolompar hit him several times.
On Thursday, Mr. Kolompar, a 37-year-old father of two teenagers, pleaded guilty to taking part in what is alleged to be one of the largest human-trafficking rings in Canadian history.
In a statement of facts read out in court, RCMP Constable Lepa Janjovic said Mr. Kolompar is part of a large Hungarian crime family. For more than two years, the organization brought men to Hamilton from Hungary and had them work for several construction companies for little or no pay. They threatened to harm the men's families in Hungary if they complained.
Mr. Kolompar, who came to Canada in early 2008, also falsely obtained tens of thousands of dollars worth of welfare money by lying to authorities and not telling them about his business.
"This was an invasion of evil, a criminal organization coming here unmolested and getting paid to exploit, Crown attorney Toni Skarica said. "It was a reign of terror."
Mr. Kolompar sat in the prisoner's box, wearing a black leather jacket over his orange prison jumpsuit, a Hungarian translator at his side. He gazed intently straight ahead and spoke only to plead guilty.
He was sentenced to six years in prison, which was whittled down to a little over two years after credit for time served. Mr. Kolompar has been in custody since he was arrested in late 2010. Once he is out, he will face deportation proceedings.
Both Mr. Farkas and another of Mr. Kolompar's workers filed victim impact statements with the court.
"It was like hell. He made me work until I passed out. Just like a slave. He didn't care that it's summer and plus 50C and I'm sweating blood. He was sitting in the car, of course, with the air conditioner and he watched us working," wrote 26-year-old Tibor Danyi. "He was always screaming and threatening me. I was devoured by fear."
Mr. Kolompar took their documents and locked them in their room. They even had to ask permission to use the washroom, Mr. Danyi wrote. He said he was allowed to wash his clothes only once a month.
Meanwhile, he said, Mr. Kolompar's family and friends would throw big parties, get drunk and skip work.
On one such occasion in the summer of 2009, when the family was distracted, Mr. Danyi and Mr. Farkas found their documents and hid them in a drill case. The next day, they walked off their job site on Leslie Street in Toronto and escaped to the home of another contractor.
The RCMP began investigating the organization later that year. Ultimately, 13 people were charged. Four of them have been convicted of various offences; others are awaiting trial. Two of them are still at large: one, the alleged ringleader, is believed to be in Hungary; another was last spotted in Peel Region near Toronto.
The names of most of the accused are under a court-ordered publication ban.