A pimp's family business
TJ Carroll’s recent conviction gave an insight into prostitution in Ireland, but the case did not reveal the full extent of his empire – brothels in almost every Irish county and an emerging business in South Africa – or the ruthless control he exerted over women who worked for him
BY THE TIME police in Wales arrested TJ Carroll on a December morning in 2008, the largely unknown Carlow man had amassed wealth that would have been the envy of even the biggest drug dealers in Ireland.
He’d built an international property portfolio and boasted seven-figure cash savings. Not for him the high-risk gangland world of drug trafficking and debt collection down the barrel of a gun. He specialised in exploiting the poor and vulnerable, and made tens of thousands of euro weekly from his many brothels across the Republic and the North.
He was aided by his wife, Shamiela Clark, a former prostitute from South Africa who is 16 years his junior and once went by the name of Carmen. He also introduced his daughter from his first marriage, Toma, into the business.
All three were jailed in Wales in February, but because they pleaded guilty, the full cruelty of their empire was never revealed in evidence in court. The Irish Timeshas since spoken at length to many senior security sources in the Republic, Northern Ireland and Britain whose investigation brought down TJ Carroll. They have revealed how foreign women were effectively bonded into near slavery in brothels in 48 locations across Ireland , and forced in many cases to hand up virtually all of their earnings.
Sources have also revealed that just before TJ Carroll was caught he was about to open brothels in South Africa especially for soccer fans travelling there for next month’s World Cup.
Born on March 26th, 1961, Thomas John Carroll was originally from St Mullins, by the river Barrow in south Carlow. He later settled in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, married and had three children.
In the mid 1990s he established a business supplying bouncers to pubs and clubs in the southeast before branching into prostitution. At first, he joined forces with an established prostitution organiser in the southeast who later fled Ireland when a rape allegation against him emerged during 2004. Carroll quickly turned gang boss.
In 2005 he organised foreign prostitutes from apartments across Waterford, Wexford and Carlow, prompting a Garda raid when a number of women complained of being beaten by Carroll’s associates in rows over money.
Carroll fled to Galway where he quickly established himself again, targeting vulnerable women who wouldn’t go to the police.
He met Shamiela Clark, who was then in her 20s and working as a prostitute. The two became lovers, had a son and married after Carroll divorced his first wife. In September 2006, Carroll and Clark were arrested in Galway when €225,000 cash was found in properties linked to them. Under questioning they admitted controlling prostitution, according to Garda sources.
TJ Carroll told gardaí of his illegal enterprise: “It saves rapes and child molestations. It gives people somewhere to go.” Released from Garda custody pending criminal charges, the pair decided to flee to Wales.
A European arrest warrant was issued for Carroll as a major investigation led by the Garda’s Organised Crime Unit was intensified. But by late 2007 both he and Clark were in business again, this time from Pembrokeshire in south Wales, where they believed they were out of reach of the Irish authorities and under the radar of the British police.
It was here, from an old vicarage in the tiny hamlet of Castlemartin, that they built what is thought to be Ireland’s largest prostitution business, which at its height turned annual profits in excess of €1 million.
“The women used were commodities to them,” said one source. They came from Nigeria, eastern Europe, Venezuela, Brazil and other parts of South America. Some were experienced in prostitution. They had answered thinly veiled newspaper adverts for “domestic staff” and came to Ireland in the full knowledge of what they were getting into. Others, usually young, poorly educated or orphaned Nigerians, were much more vulnerable. They were trafficked into Ireland by African gangs on the promise of jobs or educational opportunities. Once here, they were forced to work in Carroll’s brothels on the pretence of paying off the massive cost of their passage to Ireland; sometimes up to €60,000 was demanded by their African traffickers.
ASSAULTS AND THREATS of violence were used by TJ Carroll’s agents in Ireland to control the women. They were constantly moved around between brothels North and South to disorientate them and to provide customers with “variety”.
Sources believe Carroll “did a deal” with major Dublin-based criminals involved in prostituting to stay out of the capital if they stayed out of his regional bases.
Carroll and Clark used two websites to advertise scantily clad “exotic babes” in brothels across virtually every county in Ireland. They were officially listed as escort agencies, but the sexual services listed clearly revealed the true nature of the enterprise.
Women were advertised in, to name but a few towns and cities, Cavan, Drogheda, Athlone, Sligo, Mullingar, Carlow, Kilkenny, Enniscorthy, Newbridge, Waterford, Newry, Omagh, Lurgan, Armagh and Belfast.
When prospective customers rang to contact a woman, the Irish mobile phones were answered in Wales by Shamiela Clark – up to 300 calls a day between 10am and 1am. She would direct the men to the brothels, often over a series of three or four calls in an effort to screen for undercover detectives. The men would be charged €160 for 30 minutes and €260 for a full hour, with “extras on request”. Women were not allowed to refuse a customer.
Most of the vast sums generated in the brothels – in apartments rented from unsuspecting landlords by well-dressed agents of Carroll’s using false names – were collected by Toma Carroll. The former law student was just 22 when she first got involved. She electronically transferred cash to her father’s account in Wales and money was also brought to Wales by Toma via car ferry. In 2007 alone, the authorities traced cash transfers of €1.13 million. At one point, TJ Carroll had €854,000 in a single Credit Union account.
Investment properties, nine in all, were traced in Wales, Cyprus, Bulgaria, South Africa and Mozambique – all are now the subject of assets confiscation proceedings. The South African properties, four in Johannesburg, were to be used as brothels that would be opened for the World Cup and kept in business thereafter.
THE FAMILY BUSINESS came unstuck when the PSNI’s Organised Crime Branch in late 2007 began studying internet prostitution advertisements for evidence of human trafficking, and an ongoing Garda operation simultaneously closed in.
A raid on one brothel in December 2007 struck gold. Paperwork for a cash transfer from one of the women to TJ Carroll was found with his name on it.
Two African women found on the premises agreed to be taken to a safe place by detectives and to be interviewed. “They genuinely believed they might be killed,” says one source.
When the PSNI contacted the Garda, it found TJ Carroll was under long-term active investigation by the force’s Organised Crime Unit, which had a wealth of information on the target. The UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) was brought in to aid the complex multi-jurisdictional investigation.
Garda and PSNI detectives continued their surveillance of TJ Carroll’s brothels, and questioned customers who were leaving the premises. Their statements confirmed that the mobile numbers on the websites were linked to the properties, and that they were being used as brothels.
Electronic surveillance also revealed that the scores of mobile numbers advertised on the websites were being answered in south Wales. Twelve women who worked for Carroll also gave statements to gardaí against him during the course of the joint Garda and PSNI investigation. Some of the women travelled around the country to identify exactly where brothels had been operating; some were open for just weeks before being closed and the women moved on.
All of the evidence was pooled and given to SOCA. It was decided that because TJ Carroll and his wife had controlled prostitution from Wales, they must be charged there, even though the brothels were in Ireland.
SOCA, with the help of the Welsh police, raided TJ Carroll and Shamiela Clark’s Welsh home on the morning of December 3rd, 2008. Clark was at home with her two young children – one fathered by Carroll and one from an earlier union. The police found 80 mobile phones – containing many incriminating texts to customers and women – two computers, receipts for rental properties and paperwork for the purchases of nine properties. Some €20,000 in cash was also found, along with rate cards and sample adverts for “leggy, flexible, kinky” women and their sexual services which were to be posted on websites.
TJ Carroll was arrested in his car a short distance from his home. “For a man with a known propensity for violence, he came quietly,” said one source.
At the same time, the Garda raided nine brothels in this country, taking a number of women to safety and arresting seven people suspected of running the logistics of the empire in the Republic. Criminal charges are imminent against at least two of Carroll’s close associates in the Republic.
TJ Carroll and Clark were jailed in February for seven and 3.5 years respectively for controlling prostitution and money laundering. Toma Carroll was jailed for two years for money laundering. Charges of trafficking against TJ Carroll and Clark were not pursued when they agreed to plead guilty to the other charges.
However, in his sentencing remarks, Judge Neil Bidder QC at Cardiff Crown Court noted: “It is more than coincidence that several of those Nigerian women tell stories of dreadful coercion and/or ended up working for you. You were willing to pay others to collect money from them, who were prepared to use threats and violence to keep them in prostitution.”
Violence and voodoo: why the women couldn't just quit
TJ Carroll used threats against family members and voodoo rituals to intimidate his sex workers
The most vulnerable and easy to control of the hundreds of women who worked in TJ Carroll’s brothels were the young Nigerians.
Their families, mostly in rural Nigeria, were approached by people known to them, with a promise of education or a job for a female member of the family in her teens or early 20s.
“The understanding would be that when they got to UK, Europe, Ireland, wherever, they’d need to work for a while to pay back the traffickers for their passage,” says one source whose investigative work helped bring down TJ Carroll.
Before leaving Nigeria, voodoo rituals were performed to “bond” the women to their traffickers.
One woman told Irish investigators that before leaving Nigeria a witch doctor had made her “swear that I will pay back the money or I am going to die”.
She was then forced to eat a heart taken from a live chicken and her hair and nails were cut as part of the ceremony. “It was very clear they had real fears as a result of the rituals,” says one source.
The women or girls – two Nigerians found working in a brothel in the Republic were aged just 15 and 17 years – were told on arrival in the UK or Europe from Africa that they owed their traffickers vast sums for their passage, sometimes up to €60,000. They were sent on the last stage of the journey to Ireland, usually by plane, and given a phone number to call on arrival.
This number was always answered by Shamiela Clark. She directed them by taxi to one of her and TJ Carroll’s many brothels. Prostitution was then presented to the women as their only way of paying their debts to their African traffickers.
The women had no idea where they were and, with no money, had nowhere else to go.
A number of men – Irish-based associates of Carroll – controlled the brothels, ensuring that no customers were turned away. If the women did not comply with customers’ requests during their 15-hour shifts in the brothels – from 10am to 1am – they were threatened and beaten.
If this did not force total compliance from the women, Carroll’s associates would make contact in Africa with agents of the original trafficking gang. The gangs would travel to the women’s families and assault them because of the “difficulties” their young female relatives were creating in Ireland.
One Irish security source says: “In some cases the women here were put on the phone to their relatives back home to be told, ‘we’ve been assaulted and it’s going to get worse for us’. The attitude was ‘you must work to pay this debt’.”
The women’s lack of education, poor English, illegal status in Ireland and limited life experience – plus the threats of violence here and voodoo curses from Africa – meant they were unable to extricate themselves from their situations.
The constant moving of the women between brothels around Ireland also disoriented them and made it difficult to develop deep friendships with other women, which could have empowered them in time.
Features Monday: The life of a prostitute in Ireland, by Conor Lally