The “despicable” ringleaders of a £6 million Erith illegal worker scam were first exposed by the dogged solicitor of a legitimate employee fed up of being exploited.
Patrick McNamee was working at Cross Street Law Centre in Erith when the former Blue Feathers Guarding Ltd security guard, who does not want to be named, came to him complaining of being paid just £3 an hour.
Their first meeting was as far back as 2011 and three years later Blue Feathers director and manager Anthony Okoh, 45, and Victor Chiazor, 50, are behind bars after being convicted of using the company as a front for employing illegal workers.
Mr McNamee told News Shopper: “It was despicable and I’m really pleased with the sentence.
“It was tantamount to slavery but with a bit of pay.
“The owners could quite easily have afforded to pay these people a decent wage and charge the right amount to the contractors.
“They were probably turning away legal workers because he didn’t want to pay them the full amount.”
Despite paying employees less than half the minimum wage, Okoh, of Floathaven Close, Woolwich, and Chiazor, of Nightingale Vale, Woolwich, charged full rates to contractors.
Following a three month trial at Woolwich Crown Court, Okoh was found guilty on February 12 of conspiracy to facilitate a breach of immigration law, contrary to the Criminal Law Act 1977, and using unlicensed security operatives contrary to the Private Security Industry Act 2001.
He was sentenced to a total of four-and-a-half years in prison and Chiazor - who was convicted on the first charge and pleaded guilty to the second - 18 months behind bars.
Mr McNamee managed to get compensation for his client at an employment tribunal as the employee was a legal immigrant to the UK - unlike many Blue Feathers employees who had no chance of redress.
He referred the matter to Erith and Thamesmead MP Teresa Pearce who alerted the police.
Ms Pearce said: “On further investigation it became clear non- payment of the minimum wage was the tip of the iceberg.
“This was a security company that was deliberately exploiting both its workers and its customers.”
With Cross Street Law Centre closing this month, Mr McNamee now works at Hadfield Solicitors in Welling, offering no-win-no-fee services to former Cross Street clients who no longer qualify for legal aid.
Okoh and Chiazor were brought to justice after an investigation by the Home Office’s south London criminal investigations team, supported by the Security Industry Authority.
Both have been banned from holding SIA licences meaning they can no longer work in the industry.
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