BY JIM DOOLEY AND MALIA ZIMMERMAN – In a courtroom disaster for the federal government, prosecutors this morning dismissed all criminal charges against brothers Alec and Mike Sou, accused in 2009 of illegally importing and exploiting farm laborers from Thailand.
The dismissal came in just the second week of the trial and followed the departure Tuesday of the lead prosecutor in the case, Washington D.C.–based trial attorney Susan French of the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Justice Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Cushman filed a motion to dismiss this morning with District Court Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway.
Cushman, who had been serving as a deputy to French in the trial, said “In the interests of justice the government will dismiss the indictment.”
Cushman said the dismissal was caused “by the discovery of new evidence Friday.”
Cushman also said, “We had a lengthy discussion last night. The Justice Department in Washington D.C. has requested, and justice requires, that we move to dismiss the indictment.”
The Sou brothers, who earlier entered and later withdrew guilty pleas in the case, will hold a news conference later today. In court, they were congratulated by family and supporters.
Clare Hanusz, a private attorney representing many of the 44 Thai workers who worked at the Sous’ Aloun Farms complex in Kapolei, said “We fully intend to do everything we can to seek justice for our clients. They have suffered tremendously.
“We don’t know why it came to this point,” Hanusz continued, “but they (the workers) did not have the chance to tell their side of the story.”
U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni said briefly after the dismissal, “It was the right thing to do. We seek justice in every case.”
Nakakuni’s office supported the prosecutors from Washington in the case, which was first charged in 2009 after a lengthy investigation.
Nakakuni’s office issued a statement which said that the dismissal was “based in part on the receipt of reciprocal discovery provided by the defense that was not provided to the government until July 29,2011. After thoroughly reviewing this information, the government determined that it cannot meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
She referred additional questions to the civil rights division in Washington.
The case began unraveling Friday after defense lawyers discovered that French had given misleading information to grand jurors when seeking the 2009 indictment of the Sou brothers.
Under close questioning from Judge Mollway, French admitted that she incorrectly told the grand jury that federal law in 2004-2005 prohibited the collection of “recruitment fees” from foreign workers seeking to work in this country.
The 44 farm laborers brought to Hawaii in 2004-2005 paid between $16,000 an $20,000 to recruiters in Thailand to get their jobs here. Some of those fees – around $2,500 per each of the 44 workers – were later shared with Aloun Farms, according to one government witness.
The federal prohibition on recruitment fees was not enacted into law until 2008.
French withdrew from the trial Tuesday afternoon, citing unspecified health problems.
The remaining prosecution team tried twice to delay the trial until senior attorneys from the Civil Rights Division arrived here to decide how to proceed.
Mollway refused those requests and this morning the collapse of the case was officially finalized.
“There has been a development in this case,” Mollway told jurors.
“The government has moved to dismiss all charges and I have granted that motion,” the judge said.