BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Shane Germann stood before Hawaii’s U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway on Wednesday, May 4, remorsefully reciting details of crimes he committed in Hawaii between May 2003 and February 2006 as the on site manager and regional supervisor for the California-based labor recruiter, Global Horizons Manpower Inc.
One of 8 people charged in an alleged human trafficking case involving an estimated 400 farm workers from Thailand, U.S. Department of Justice officials accused Germann and 7 others from Global Horizons for various roles in what they claim is the largest human trafficking scheme in America.
If not for the plea to one count of conspiracy to knowingly holding Thai nationals in document servitude violating the forced labor statute, Germann could have been imprisoned for 30 years. With the guilty plea, Germann could spend up to 5 years in prison and 3 years on probation as well as pay a $250,000 fine and restitution to the victims.
With his wife sitting behind him, Germann, dressed in a casual beige silk shirt, khaki pants and dark rimmed eyeglasses, calmly spelled out his involvement in the conspiracy.
“Upon the arrival of the workers, I confiscated their passports for security reasons, so they were not lost or stolen and so they could not travel anywhere. I sent them (by Federal Express) to the LA headquarters of Global and got them back when workers needed to travel,” Germann said, noting he did so at the direction of Global CEO Mordechai Yosef Orian and managers Pranee Tubchumpol and Joseph Knoller.
In August and September of 2005, Germann said Orian and Knoller told Germann and other defendants to secure the perimeters of the Maui Pineapple housing complex where the Thai workers lived to prevent them from running away. He also assisted in deporting workers back to Thailand soon after, even though many of the workers did not want to return to Thailand until they’d worked off the estimated $20,000 debt they’d each acquired when paying Thai recruiters a recruitment and travel fee.
Germann admitted that workers were transported from farm to farm aboard Orian’s private airplane, a Piper Aztec, and that some of the workers had expired visas, but by traveling privately could avoid detection.
If Germann sticks to his plea agreement, Assistant United States Attorney Susan Cushman said no additional charges will be filed against him or his wife. Mollway told Germann that he will be sentenced on August 22, 2011, at 3:45 p.m. and that he could be sentenced to additional time.
The government’s case against Global Horizon’s principals is building, said Clare Hanusz, a Hawaii immigration attorney who brought the Global case to the FBI in Honolulu, and now represents with her law partner Melissa Vincenty an estimated 100 Thai laborers allegedly trafficked here from Thailand. She was at the hearing Wednesday and noted Germann’s change of plea helps the federal government’s case against Global Horizons.
Germann is the second person of 8 indicted in the case to change his plea from not guilty. Bruce Schwartz, who faced up to 10 years in prison, first withdrew his not guilty plea – Mollway will sentence him on September 12. Other defendants are expected to cooperate with the government in the coming months.
In addition to Germann, Orian, Tubchumpol, Sam Wongsesanit, Ratawan Chunharutai and Podjanee Sinchai – all associated with the Global Horizons Manpower Inc. and recruiters for Global Horizons in Thailand – were federally indicted on September 1, 2010. A 10-count superseding indictment against defendants Joseph Knoller and Bruce Schwartz was issued January 14, 2011.
They are accused of conspiring and devising a scheme to obtain the labor of approximately 400 Thai nationals by enticing them to come to the United States with false promises of lucrative jobs, and then maintaining their labor at farms in Washington and Hawaii through threats of serious economic harm and arranging for the Thai workers to pay high recruitment fees, which were financed by debts secured with the workers’ family property and homes… and that “Significant portions of these fees went to the defendants themselves.”
Defendants took the Thai nationals’ passports, did not honor their employment contracts, and kept the workers in line by threatening to send them home to Thailand, “knowing they would face serious economic harms created by the debts,” the indictment said.
The indictment also alleges that the defendants held a group of Thai workers at Maui Pineapple Farm, demanding $3,750 in addition to money already paid to keep their jobs with Global Horizons. Workers who did not pay were sent to Thailand with debts unpaid, which the government says put the workers at “high risk” of losing their family homes and land.
The defendants, with the exception of the two changing their pleas, have maintained their innocence.
If convicted, Orian faces a maximum sentence of 135 years; Tubchumpol a maximum sentence of 115 years; Wongsesanit a maximum sentence of 35 years; Chunharutai a maximum sentence of 65 years; and Knoller a maximum of five years. Sinchai, who was recently charged and convicted in Thailand with recruitment fraud, faces a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison if convicted in the United States.
The Honolulu, Los Angeles, Norfolk and Buffalo divisions of the FBI; the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Offices in Los Angeles, Provo, Utah and Washington State; and the U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service, Los Angeles Field Office, are involved in the case. Trial Attorneys Susan French and Kevonne Small of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and Assistant United States Attorney Susan Cushman of the District of Hawaii are prosecuting the case. Attorney Harlan Kimura represents Germann.
In a separate case, Global Horizons and 6 Hawaii farms and two mainland farms are facing civil charges from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for alleged labor abuses.
Hawaii farm owners said they are not guilty of any labor violations. Orian told Hawaii Reporter that the lawsuit and accusations against him in both the criminal case and civil case were “all nonsense.”
Global Horizons first brought Thai workers in 2003 to Hawaii through a partnership with Aloun Farms, an Asian vegetable farm on Oahu, which is owned and operated by brothers Mike and Alec Sou. Aloun is not included in the EEOC case or criminal case against Global.
The U.S. Department of Justice has a separate criminal case against Aloun Farms. The Sou brothers were indicted in August 2009 on three counts including conspiracy to commit forced labor, visa fraud and document servitude. On October 27, the federal government added charges for a total of 12 criminal acts related to a forced labor scheme. The Sous pled not guilty October 30. Their case is scheduled to go to trial on July 26, 2011.