Photo courtesy of The Age Cases
Photo courtesy of The Age Cases

Big Island Farm Owner Speaks Out About EEOC Investigation

The owner of the Big Island farm, which operates Captain Cook Coffee Company, is speaking out about civil charges filed against his farm and five other Hawaii farms last April by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission calling the accusations “false.”

U.S. District Judge David Ezra dismissed the complaint last week, saying the government agency that is charged with prohibiting employment discrimination has not been specific enough in its allegations. He gave the agency’s Los Angeles-based attorneys 45 days to refile its lawsuit.

The Hawaii farms named in the complaint, including Captain Cook Coffee Company, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii, and Maui Pineapple Farms, all contracted with the Los Angeles-based Global Horizons Manpower Company between 2003 and 2007, to bring in workers from Thailand to work on their farms.

Six Global Horizons employees were indicted criminally in September 2010, including its president, three executives and two Thai labor contractors, in what justice officials said was the biggest human-trafficking case ever brought by federal authorities. On January 14, a 10-count superseding indictment charged two other people in Los Angeles, Joseph Knoller and Bruce Schwartz, as co-conspirators. Three people have pled guilty in federal court.

The EEOC, which also is targeting Global in this complaint, contends “Global Horizons engaged in a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, when it trafficked over 200 Thai male victims to farms in Hawaii and Washington where they were subjected to severe abuse.” Owner of Global Horizons, Mordechai Orian, has strongly refuted these claims.

The EEOC maintains that the farm owners “not only ignored abuses, but also participated in the obvious mistreatment, intimidation, harassment, and unequal pay of the Thai workers.” Each defendant could pay between $50,000 and $300,000 per Thai worker on their farm.

Steve McLaughlin said the Captain Cook Coffee Company is pleased but not surprised by the judge’s ruling. “Captain Cook Coffee Company has been asking the EEOC for years to explain the basis for the charges, but the EEOC has repeatedly refused.”

He said that the EEOC went on to “extensively publicize serious and false accusations about Captain Cook Coffee Company without being able to back up these allegations with facts.”

McLaughlin said: “Judge Ezra recognized that like everybody else, if the EEOC initiates a lawsuit, it must have and it must explain the factual basis for its allegations. The EEOC’s unreasonable refusal to explain its accusations against Captain Cook demonstrates that, as we have contended all along, there is no merit to the charges and there was no wrongdoing by Captain Cook.”

A representative for the EEOC told Hawaii Reporter in an email last week that the dismissal by Ezra is just procedurral.

“The court granted the motion to dismiss without prejudice to allow the EEOC to add more facts so that the defendants are more informed as to why they are being sued.  This process is not unusual during the course of litigation,” said Christine Park-Gonzalez, a Training & Public Relations specialist for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Former Council Member to Be Sentenced for Theft

Former state Legislator and City Council Member Rod Tam, who pled guilty to 26 counts in November 2010, will be sentenced a year later on Tuesday, November 1, 2011, at 1:30 p.m. at the state of Hawaii’s District Court, Room 7B.

Tam pled guilty to two counts of Theft in the Third Degree, 11 counts of Theft in the Fourth Degree, and 13 counts of Unsworn Falsification to Authorities, after the attorney general said that he submitted false claims for reimbursements of meals during fiscal years 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.

“Tam knowingly charged the City higher amounts than the actual receipts paid for the meals, and was therefore overpaid in reimbursements. The amounts of the individual overcharges described in the complaint ranged from $8.00 to $267.55 and were incurred at various restaurants in Honolulu,” the attorney general’s office said at the time.

His sentencing has been delayed multiple times, but he could be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison and pay substantial fines when he goes to court next month.

Tam also was charged in a separate complaint on June 6, 2011, with eight counts of Campaign Spending Violations, all misdemeanor charges. The Department of the Attorney General alleged that from February of 2008 through January of 2009, Tam used his campaign funds for personal use.

His friends and supporters, who launched a web site in his defense, are expected to appear in court tomorrow to support Tam. They say he has been wrongly accused and bullied by the prosecutor in to pleading guilty.

Lawmakers Review Proposals to Protect Hawaii’s Elderly From Financial Fraud

Rep. Kymberly Pine, R-Ewa, held an informational briefing last week on elder abuse and financial exploitation in conjunction with rep. John Mizuno, D-Kalihi.

She said today that it was “very productive in our effort to defend our seniors from a crime trend that unfortunately is rapidly increasing.”

There are several new proposals to protect Hawaii’s seniors from financial fraud.

Pine said that includes:

1.  “Requiring a durable Power of Attorney (POA) to be signed by two witnesses not related to the POA and acknowledged by a notary public;

2.  “Ensuring that the second signer is someone experienced in elder financial exploitation and would know whether a person is being coerced;

3.  “Strengthening protections and public responsibility to adequately address elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation; and

4.  “Ensuring quality long-term healthcare for the elderly with a focus on aging in place and community-based healthcare.”

See the full report on the hearing here.

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