BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – After Mordechai Orian of Global Horizons Manpower Company was indicted in 2010 on charges related to human trafficking, he told Hawaii Reporter in several exclusive interviews to follow that the federal government was “overzealous” and he was innocent of the charges against him.
The FBI claimed Orian was responsible for the largest human trafficking case in U.S. history involving some 700 workers and spent millions of dollars and dedicated countless man-hours to prove it.
FBI agents arrested Orian, confiscated his plane, held him in federal prison, ordered him under house arrest in Hawaii instead of his home in California, issued press releases about his alleged wrongdoing to media worldwide, and essentially shut down his business when they seized his company’s files and computers.
Six Global Horizons employees were indicted criminally in September 2010, including Orian, three executives and two Thai labor contractors. 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 pled guilty in federal court.
Orian’s trial, documented in volumes of paperwork in United States v. Orian, was set for August 28, 2012, after it was delayed at the federal government’s request.
But on Friday, the federal government dropped the case against Orian.
“I got a phone call from my lawyer and he said they agreed to dismiss the charges and it’s over. Honestly I just stopped the car and my hands were shaking and I just had tears coming from my eyes. It was the first time (I cried) even when bad things happened. I was just – you know – uncontrollable,” Orian said in an exclusive interview with Hawaii Reporter on July 24, 2012.
Nanda Chitre, spokesperson for the Department of Justice, offered little explanation for the decision, saying only “A team of attorneys and agents determined the government is unable to prove the elements of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt, the high standard applied in criminal prosecutions, and that proceeding with the prosecution no longer serves the public interest.”
Orian said even though he was happy, he also had mixed feelings about not being able to go to trial. “I think it was my chance to show what kind of people I am dealing with. I didn’t have the chance to do that. They took it away out of me.”
Trial Team Has Poor Track Record in Hawaii
The same Washington DC-based federal prosecution team that originally brought charges Global Horizons – which includes Susan French and Kevonne Small of the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division – is the same team that bungled the forced labor case filed against Mike and Alec Sou of Aloun Farms in 2009.
Both the Aloun Farms and Global Horizon cases involved laborers brought from Thailand to work on farms in Hawaii around the same time period.
After a series of missteps, French fell ill during the second week of the September trial, which was expected to continue for another two to three weeks. The judge would not delay the trial. A couple of days later, the U.S. Justice Department announced the agency would drop the charges against the Sou brothers.
Prosecutors would not say why, after two years of preparation, they abruptly gave up. The brothers, who were charged in 2009 with 14 counts of visa fraud and forced labor, originally pled guilty to one count each, but withdrew their plea and requested a trial.
Some 44 Thai workers were brought to Hawaii by the Sous. Several said they were outraged with the Justice department decision.
The workers took out loans so they could pay up to $20,000 each to come to America on the promise of working in Hawaii for three years. Instead they said they were released in 5 months, underpaid and forced to live in storage containers. They were told to borrow the money in Thailand to come here and now are losing their homes and rice fields used as collateral. The workers said they were never able to tell their story to a judge.
Orian, who was a labor contractor for the Sous before they brought in workers on their own, attended every day of the Sous’ criminal trial.
When the case was dismissed against the Sou brothers, Orian predicted the federal government would drop the charges against him because their case was essentially based on the same premise and was mounted by the same prosecution team.
According to Orian and attorneys for the Sous, French misrepresented the date the trafficking law was updated by Congress, rendering her indictments moot.
During the final hours of the Sous’ trial, French admitted to the judge she told the grand jury that it was illegal to charge excessive recruitment fees from workers on H2A workers visas in 2004, the year the Sous personally recruited the workers from Thailand. Congress in fact passed the legislation in 2008, some four years later. Orian alleges French made the same misstatement of this important fact in his grand jury proceedings.
Orian said in an earlier interview that labor law in Thailand says if a worker fails to complete their contract and returns home to Thailand, they must be able to recoup a proportional amount of the fees actually paid.
The Justice Department won’t discuss specifics, but said in its Friday release it “moved for the dismissal (of the Orian case) based on an additional review of the evidence following the August 2011 dismissal in United States v. Sou.”
Before, during and after the brief trial, Orian was not hesitant to share his strong opinions about what he believed was an incompetent and inept federal prosecution.
When French disappeared in the middle of the Sous’ trial after what many observers thought was a disastrous and disorganized presentation of the case against the Sous, Orian maintained she left the Sou trial “under a cloud of ethical suspicion.” He also maintained she had a personal vendetta against him.
“But you know, who ever made the decision to destroy my life, succeeded. Because they shot me down, they humiliated me and it’s going to take me a long time to get back on my feet.”
Orian said the experience has been hard on his family.
“I can take it, but my family, what they’ve been through, the people around, the friends that disappeared. All the things that you see that you can’t even imagine – that’s what breaks you. The experience take its toll on the family more than anybody.”
He said he does not want revenge, but wants justice.
“Honestly, I don’t wish ill of anybody but I just wish the guys who did this to me would lose their jobs so they don ‘t have the chance to do something like to any other people again. That’s what upset me more than anything. People who have the power and they just destroy somebody’s life without any mercy. Nothing. No chance to talk to the grand jury, no way to fight, nothing. … I will try to get back in life. I don’t even know where I’m going to start yet.”
Civil Litigation Pending
Neither Orian nor the Sou brothers have seen the end of these allegations against them.
While the criminal litigation has been dismissed, attorneys for the Thai workers plan to file lawsuits against both the Sous and Orian.
Melissa Vincenty and Clare Hanusz are representing some of the Thai workers.
Hanusz, now living in Australia, said on July 24, 2012, “The dismissal of the case leaves us with more questions than answers.”
She said there have been allegations that this case, like the case again the Sou brothers of Aloun Farms, came about because attorneys coached the Thai farm workers to lie.
“Speaking for the dozens of Thai victims we represent, this is patently false, and I don’t know any attorney who would be stupid enough think they could get away with coaching foreign workers to lie so they could get legal immigration status. The Department of Justice is standing behind the victims, and the case fell apart for other reasons, reasons we are not privy too. It was a great disappointment for the victims.”
Vincenty, who is also living in Australia, told Hawaii Reporter that Global Horizons had a “weapon of control” over the workers – money.
“Workers were not paid on time, not paid for all of the work they performed, not paid for weeks and months of furloughed time. While this was happening, the debts back in Thailand increased daily and the workers became more and more desperate.”
Most workers not have any contacts for the government or assistance outside of the farms, Vincenty said, especially those in isolated locations.
“The workers I have spoken with felt that they had to keep trying to get work from Global Horizons or their lives would be ruined,” Vincenty said. “Workers were told to stop complaining or they would be sent home, which meant the destruction of the men’s families and farms.”
Vincenty maintains there were many broken promises, including wages and terms of contract. “All of the workers were promised three years of consistent work in the U.S. by recruitment companies hired by Global Horizons. The men calculated this, balanced this promise against the recruitment fees that were being asked of them, and knew that if they had three years of work, they could pay off their loan in two years and take one year of salary home with them,” Vincenty said. “They were not told that the work or their visas would last only for a small fraction of that time. They were not told it would be two weeks of work followed by two months off, then 3 weeks of work in another state, then more time off or even time back in Thailand. This was misleading and dishonest.”
“The moment that Global Horizons learned of the excessive recruitment fees, they should have fired that recruitment company and reported them to the Thai Department of Labor. But, instead, in the U.S., Global Horizons supervisors attempted to get more fees from the workers.”
Thai Worker Shares His Story
Kiet Jainukul is a client of Vincenty and Hanusz. He told Hawaii Reporter in a 2011 interview that he came to work in America in hopes he could bring his family out of poverty.
He says a manpower recruiter from SAIM TP in Udon, Thailand required him to pay 650,000 baht (approximately $17,000) in cash, even though Thai recruiters are not allowed to collect just 65,000 baht or $1,500 in fees.
The recruiter escorted him to Krungsri Ayutthaya Bank also known as Bank of Ayudhya to borrow half the money, and he “went out of the system” to get the rest from wealthy villagers at a much higher interest, using his family’s home and rice farm as collateral. He never touched the cash. His level of education, which like most of his peers did not go past grammar school, was noted on his form.
When it came time to leave the country, and the money had already been paid, the recruiter told him he must not tell the Thai Department of Labor that he paid more or he would have his visa, job and deposit revoked. Scared he would lose everything, he kept quiet and signed a government document that said he paid the maximum legally allowed in fees and no more. He was optimistic that in a year, he could pay off the debt, and make two years profit.
But in reality, that plan would never materialize. After leaving Thailand bound for Arizona farms, Jainukul said he was redirected to Los Angeles where Global Horizons was headquartered and spent a month in an apartment with 10 other Thai workers waiting to get to work.
He said they only brought $20 to $100 each to America, and that money didn’t go very far in pricey LA when they needed to buy their own food. They mostly ate Saimin.
“We were very, very hungry, but afraid to go out any place, because could not speak language,” said Jainukul. “No one wanted to speak up because we did not want to get sent home. There was a lot of pressure. I felt suicidal, like I wanted to hang myself, because there was no way to pay debt. I imagined killing myself.”
Jainukul is one of 11 workers brought to America in that group in 2002. Three other Thai workers interviewed from the group of 11 said in a 2011 interview that they were also victimized and they blame the manpower company and Global Horizon. They said that the worst part is the debt and the fact that Global did not follow the contract or take care of the workers with living conditions, food, or payments, as they had been promised.
Broken families, being unable to return home to see family members, a deeper level of poverty, and the possibility of losing their homes, also makes them extremely sad. “Nobody cares about us,” the workers told Hawaii Reporter.
Chancee Martorell, who is a spokesperson for the Thai CDC, a California-based organization that advocates for the Thai workers, said the Thai CDC advocates were “shocked, dismayed, disappointed, angry and upset” when they received the news about the charges being dropped.
“Thai CDC has worked on this case for nine years since the first worker escaped in 2003. Despite sending the case to the DOJ initially, they didn’t take up the criminal prosecution until 2009. But we had already gone ahead to work on the civic case through EEOC and on the workers’ T-visas. The over three years that the workers spent cooperating with DOJ hoping to see justice rendered has now all come to a sudden end with this dismissal. You can imagine how upsetting all of us and the workers are.”
Martorell said they have been busy holding meetings with the workers to help explain this latest development to them.
“They (the workers) are infuriated and see this as a travesty of justice or justice denied. The fact that not even one charge stuck is completely mind boggling to them. And they are in total disbelief that the DOJ has also withdrawn the guilty pleas,” Martorell said.
More Troubles from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Besides the pending private litigation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission continues to investigate Global Horizons and several farms here and in the mainland that hired Global workers. All of the farm owners who could be reached for comment denied wrongdoing.
Chitre of the Department of Justice confirmed the dismissal of the criminal case does not impact any ongoing civil litigation being conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
An April 20, 2011, the EEOC laid out its case: “The EEOC asserts that between 2003 and 2007, Global Horizons enticed Thai male nationals into working at the farms with the false promises of steady, high-paying agricultural jobs along with temporary visas allowing them to live and work in the U.S. legally. The opportunity came at a price: high recruitment fees creating an insurmountable debt for the Thai workers. When they reached the U.S., Global Horizons confiscated the workers’ passports and threatened deportation if they complained, which set the tone for the abuses to come.
“The Thai workers were assigned to work at six farms in Hawaii (Captain Cook Coffee Company, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii, and Maui Pineapple Farms) and two farms in Washington (Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards), harvesting a variety of items from pineapples to coffee beans. The EEOC asserts that the farms not only ignored abuses, but also participated in the obvious mistreatment, intimidation, harassment, and unequal pay of the Thai workers.
“At some farms, the Thai workers were forced to live in dilapidated housing infested with rats and insects, with dozens sleeping in the same room.”
U.S. District Judge David Ezra last year threw out the original EEOC complaint against Global and the farmers. EEOC attorneys filed another complaint last week.
“Honestly I don’t think it will go too far. This is the EEOC, the federal government is going to spend the money again to go after Global. …” Orian said today.
“Now that I have time, I can put the energy in fighting the federal government because that’s not only about me. It’s also for the farmers. They texted me right away (when the charges were dropped) and said ‘can you help us now?’ And of course, I will.”
“Those farmers would not give up because they know they have done nothing wrong. What does the government blame them for? My company brought them (the Thai workers to Hawaii), not the farmers. If you want to go against somebody, go against me. …. Honestly, the farmers have nothing to do with that. We will prove it in court,” Orian said.
Global Horizons vs. Aloun Farms
Ironically, Orian and the Sou brothers aren’t on such good terms.
The Sou brothers brought Orian to Hawaii when they first hired him to recruit Thai workers to work on the West Oahu farm.
Orian said they still owe him $800,000, and if they don’t pay, he will file a lawsuit to recoup the money.
He said Alex Sou “is a sneaky guy who would do anything for the money.” Orian said “he (Alex) treats people very bad.”
He said the Sous treated their employees poorly. “I was really upset with them (the Sous). … “We have laws in this country. We have to follow the laws. They don’t care.”
Justice Department: Prosecutors Making Headway Against Human Trafficking
The Justice Department maintains, that while it had to drop this case, its prosecutors are making headway in combating human trafficking.
“The Department of Justice is committed to identifying, assisting and seeking justice on behalf of human trafficking victims who have been trapped in some form of slavery, coerced labor, debt bondage or sex trafficking.”
“Over the last three years, we’ve achieved significant increases in human trafficking prosecutions – including a rise of more than 30 percent in the number of forced labor and sex trafficking prosecutions, and we will aggressively continue to bring significant cases, ranging from single-victim domestic servitude cases to prosecutions that dismantle transnational organized criminal networks.”