From StarAdvertiser.com, Nelson Daranciang, 20 Jun 2011.
The brothers’ abuse of Thai laborers began in 2003, the federal government alleges
Federal prosecutors want to introduce new allegations during the trial for the owners of Aloun Farms that they had a history of subjecting impoverished Thai agricultural laborers to oppressive working and living conditions.
The government says in court documents that Aloun Farms owners Alec and Mike Sou, awaiting trial in federal court on forced labor and related charges, had abused impoverished Thai workers before.
The Sou brothers are scheduled to stand trial next month on charges in connection with the importation of 44 farm laborers from Thailand to work on their farm in 2004. They are accused of importing the workers under false pretenses, having their passports confiscated when they arrived, underpaying them, restricting their movements and forcing them to live in crowded or substandard housing.
The federal prosecutor says in court documents the Sous subjected other Thai farm laborers to the same conditions in 2003 when they hired the workers from Los Angeles-based labor contracting company Global Horizons Manpower Inc.
Mike Sou’s lawyer, Thomas Otake, said because the trial is pending, it is not appropriate to comment on evidence in the media. He said he and his client will address the issues raised by the prosecutor in court.
A hearing on the prosecutor’s request is scheduled for next month, two weeks before trial.
Global Horizons officers and employees, including owner Mordechai Yosef Orian, are scheduled to stand trial next February in what the government says is the largest case of human trafficking ever prosecuted in the U.S. They are accused of exploiting about 600 impoverished farm workers from Thailand by shuttling them back and forth across the country, including to Hawaii, to live and work under oppressive conditions.
The prosecutor in both cases says that when the Sous hired the Thai laborers from Global Horizons, Aloun was not authorized to employ the workers under the U.S. Labor Department’s seasonal guest worker program and Global Horizons was not authorized to place the workers in Hawaii.
The government says a Global Horizons employee visited the Thai workers at Aloun in 2003 to see whether the workers were living in approved housing. The employee found workers living in a metal shipping container lined with floor mats as beds. The government said the container had no kitchen or indoor plumbing.
The Global Horizons employee also saw the workers washing their clothes in a trash bin outside the container and reported her observations in an anonymous letter to the Department of Labor, the government said.
A lawyer for Alec Sou had said in court that the containers had doors, windows and air conditioning and referred to them as modular homes.
The Sous are not charged with any alleged acts involving Thai workers on their farm in 2003. However, the prosecutor is asking the court for permission to introduce those allegations during trial to show the Sous had motive, intent and knowledge of what they were doing involving the 44 workers they imported in 2004.