From the outside they looked like ordinary suburban Brisbane homes, but behind closed doors up to 25 Taiwanese slaves worked to prop up a criminal syndicate.
Dozens of Taiwanese nationals were recruited to fly to Australia to take part in a call centre scam that targeted Chinese citizens.
But they knew nothing about the harsh conditions that would be imposed on them in two Morningside and South Brisbane properties in 2015.
Yu-Hau Huang, the leader of the Morningside house, and his second-in-charge Bo-Syun Chen were sentenced to three and two-and-a-half years’ jail respectively on Wednesday.
They pleaded guilty in the Brisbane District Court in what Judge Tony Moynihan QC said was the “first prosecution and sentence” of the new charge of causing a person to enter into or remain in servitude.
They were released on two-year good behaviour bonds, having already served 18 months behind bars.
However, the court heard Huang and Chen, who entered the country on working visas, would be immediately deported to Taiwan.
The pair imposed a series of strict rules on their slaves, which included working seven days a week from 7.40am to 4.45pm.
But the work didn’t end then.
At night the 25 occupants were required to attend classes and practise phone scripts for use in the call centre.
Their mobile phones and passports were taken away, contact with family was limited to once a week and they weren’t allowed to “chat, play, stretch or move around” during their long work hours.
The workers were also forced to share rooms, shower together and were prohibited from leaving their rooms after 11pm.
One of the men escaped from the house in the middle of the night a fortnight after he had arrived in Australia.
He contacted police, and Huang and Chen were soon charged with one count each of the servitude charge.
The judge said the pair verbally abused the victim multiple times and told him it was impossible for him to leave.
Huang threatened to beat him and made him stand still for five hours after he again asked to leave following an altercation with another worker.
Defence barrister Michael Byrne said his clients were themselves victims of the criminal operation and simply fell into positions of power because they were older.
“It’s not as if either of them had any major role,” he said.
“My clients were in very similar circumstances to each of the workers in that house.”
But Judge Moynihan said the victim had suffered psychological trauma as a consequence of their actions.
“He has concerns for his own future and that of his own family,” he said.
Originally published as Taiwanese men jailed over Qld slave house