Sabrina Gaina (25) and Badar Hayat (43) admitted an offence of acting as gangmasters without a licence, following an investigation led by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).
The pair held joint control of five properties near Leicester city centre, which were sub-let to workers recruited from overseas.
Workers reported up to 13 people were forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor of one three-bedroomed property. It was an arrangement that netted Gaina and Hayat nearly four times the amount of rent they were paying each month, according to the GLAA.
At Leicester Crown Court, judge Nicholas Dean QC told the couple they had exploited people by offering them the prospect of a better life and had made a profit of £20,000-£25,000.
Gaina and Hayat were given 12-month prison terms, suspended for two years, along with being served with Labour Market Enforcement Orders – also in force for two years.
The orders require compliance with measures aimed at preventing further offences being committed under UK labour law. Failure to do so would be a criminal offence – terms similar to those for an ASBO up until 2015.
GLAA director of operations Ian Waterfield said the actions of Gaina and Hayat were a clear case of two “ruthless opportunists” spotting a chance to make a quick and substantial profit by preying on vulnerable workers.
“They targeted those with little money, who spoke little or no English, many of whom were in a desperate position in their home country,” said Waterfield.
“The conditions they promised were a far cry from those that were delivered in reality as they drove their tenants into debt and gave them no choice but to work their way out of it.”
Earlier this month, police in south Wales arrested a man on suspicion of exploiting workers as an unlicensed gangmaster in the fresh food packaging and processing sector.
Meanwhile, last month, the GLAA announced it was to introduce new licensing standards to better protect vulnerable and exploited workers.