A man and a woman have been remanded in custody over charges related to brothels, human trafficking and money laundering.
Gerald Corrigan, 62, of Park View, Pomeroy, Co Tyrone and Mavie Martins Mariano, 47, of Rockview Crescent, Belleeks, Co Armagh appeared separately via videolink before Dungannon Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.
They have both been charged with human trafficking, controlling prostitution, brothel keeping and money laundering between March 2020 and November 2022.
Mariano was described in court as being the “driving force” behind operations in Northern Ireland.
District Judge Peter Magill rejected bail applications for both of the defendants and listed the case to be heard again on December 21.
The charges came after 27 brothels across Northern Ireland were raided on Monday as part of a multi-agency operation targeting sexual exploitation.
It has been described as the biggest operation against human trafficking the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has carried out to date.
Corrigan appeared first in court, and indicated that he understood the charges.
A PSNI officer told the court she could connect the accused to the charges.
She described a proactive investigation into human trafficking for sexual exploitation, and that it has been established that vulnerable sex workers are being trafficked around Northern Ireland for the purpose of sexual exploitation by the accused.
She said a vast amount of money, more than £150,000, transferred between the two suspects, and described CCTV evidence and statements that Corrigan drove sex workers between brothels for money.
“Ms Mariano is involved in renting accommodation throughout Northern Ireland for sex work in return for money, Mr Corrigan then transports escorts,” she told the court.
“Ms Mariano has admitted that she is in regular contact with escorts and arranges short term rentals for them for sex work and makes a gain from this by charging £50.”
She added: “We would say there is a risk of further reoffending, we suspect that the parties are so involved that if they were released they would re engage immediately in their activity.”
She also raised a fear of potential interference with witnesses, and a risk of flight around Ms Mariano who has family in Brazil.
“We believe this has been going on for years, this has not just happened in the last six months,” she added.
Defence solicitor Brian Archer said his client has a clear record, has never been arrested before and co operated fully with police.
He said Corrigan has not benefited personally from the vast majority of the money.
“He has made admissions he offered a taxi service to these adult women, transferred them to different locations in Northern Ireland and requested a fee of them in the region of £40-£60 per time,” he said.
Mr Archer described his client as being in poor health, with diabetes, high blood pressure and is recovering from cancer. He also said he had a very limited income.
District Judge Magill said Corrigan was not suitable for bail.
Mariano appeared later in the court sitting.
She replied yes when asked if she understood the charges.
The same police officer said she believed she could connect the accused to the charges.
Her defence solicitor Gary Black said Mariano had a young daughter living in Northern Ireland, and two adult daughters living in Brazil.
He said she answered all questions put to her by police and gave them access to her phone and devices.
He told the court Mariano had been a former sex worker herself, and would help the women involved with language.
“She has been living permanently in Northern Ireland since February 2018, she has been renting the same accommodation since March 2019, and she currently receiving universal credit but was also engaged in part time work as a cleaner,” he said.
“She frankly stated to police that she has previously worked as a sex worker herself, she states that’s not something she currently engaged in, but she states that the girls in question would be friends of hers that she has worked with previously.”
He also told the court Mariano told police that sex workers come to her due to their difficulty with English, and ask her to make bookings, “effectively a travel agent or booking agent”..
“She accepted during the course of interviews that she would receive £50 for each booking made,” he said.
“Whilst the sums involved are significant, any sums of money which were retained or otherwise by Miss Mariano were considerably negliable in terms of the overall scale.”
He said she is concerned about the impact on her young daughter of her being in custody, and was willing to surrender her passport and abide by a curfew.
Judge Magill said there is a fear of further offences and interference with witnesses, as well as a fear of flight, and he refused bail.
Both are set to appear before court again on December 21.