BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU, HAWAII (PART 1 OF A SERIES) – Mordechai “Motty” Yosef Orian, 45, who served as an Israeli Navy officer beginning in 1983, tells about his days as a commander of ships with harrowing details of times when he nearly lost his life, but showed courage, integrity, honor and perseverance in the face of danger.
Orian, who also headed up the new technology implementation for the Navy, is proud of his service and the way he says he protected his country and helped America, and says his service record and life experiences proves he is the last one to run from a fight.
Two decades later, this charismatic military officer turned wealthy international businessman, is in another battle – this time for his freedom, wealth, property and reputation. His ally is no longer the United States government. The U.S. Department of Justice Human Trafficking Division indicted Orian on September 1, 2010, on human trafficking charges, alleging that he is responsible for the largest human trafficking ring in recent history.
In a multi-count indictment, Orian and others are charged with a “scheme” to import 600 Thai workers to America from 2001 to 2007. The charges include forced labor conspiracy, a document servitude conspiracy and threatening “serious harm” to workers. Additional charges related to wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering are expected, his lawyer disclosed in court last week.
On January 14, a 10-count superseding indictment charged two other people in Los Angeles, Joseph Knoller and Bruce Schwartz, as co-conspirators.
Orian now lives at the Ala Moana Hotel where he has been under government curfew and monitored by an electronic ankle bracelet after U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Kobayashi deemed him a flight risk. Assistant US Attorney Susan Cushman filed documents claiming Orian had used 26 different aliases and four different Social Security numbers and could flee.
In an exclusive interview, Orian, in a crisp royal blue dress shirt and stripped tie, detailed his life, his challenges, his businesses and his legal battles.
He maintained that he is innocent of all charges and alleged a handful of high-ranking government officials have conspired on several occasions to ruin his business, his finances, his life and take his freedom.
Launching Global Horizons
In 1989, Orian said he began bringing foreign laborers to Israel from overseas from places like Thailand, India, Nepal, China as well as Eastern and Western Europe at his government’s request, because he said it was too dangerous to bring in laborers from nearby Muslim countries.
That effort turned into an international business in 1997, with Global Horizons sending skilled workers such as nurses and management consultants, and unskilled laborers, including farmers, to 15 countries on four continents. Global helped businesses recruit the labor they needed while also providing quality, well paying jobs for foreign workers, Orian said.
Orian moved to Vienna and then to America after the November 4, 1995, assassination of Israeli’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Orian had great admiration and respect for him and felt he was the only one who could bring peace to Israel. He didn’t leave Israel because of problems with his manpower company, but because of the assassination and challenges with an insurance company he owned.
A 2003 Human Rights Report from the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network and the International Federation for Human Rights, “Migrant Workers in Israel – A Contemporary Form of Slavery,” indicates there was some trouble in Israel with his labor company, but Orian says the accusations in that report are false and he successfully sued to have it retracted.
He began partnerships with American farmers in 2001 and 2002, starting in Arizona. Global eventually hired thousands of farm workers to harvest everything from apples, nuts, pineapple and prune trees in more than two dozen states including California, Washington and Hawaii. He said Thai workers were “begging” to come to America because instead of getting $60 a month, they would make $2,000 a month, and they’d get their food, room and board and travel paid for as well.
Orian’s manpower company was not his only business ventures – Orian said he ran and invested in a variety of businesses around the world, including a non-profit orphanage in Texas, an insurance business, shopping centers, a spectacular fireworks show in Budapest, a lucrative electronics company in the United States and a trendy television channel similar to MTV.
Litigation over private property he purchased brought him to California is what brought him to that state, where he still lives in with his wife and three children on the exclusive West Moonshadows Drive in Malibu.
Since coming to America, he’s battled extensive civil and criminal litigation.
In November 2006, U.S. Department of Labor Judge William Dorsey ruled that Global Horizons Manpower, Inc. “willfully and fraudulently represented it had contracts with Taft Farms” in Bakersfield, California. The judge said Global did so that the company could obtain 200 temporary work visas from August 1, 2003 and April 30, 2004 for workers, even though they did not yet have contracts or jobs for them. The judge also said that Global fired laborers “for poor performance, when in fact, they were terminated for lack of work.” The judge prevented Orian from bringing in guest workers to the United States for three years.
Less than a year later, on Sep. 7, 2007, U.S. Department of Labor investigator Philipda Modrakee reported that 156 Global laborers at Hawaii’s Maui Pineapple Farm were not paid on time or at the minimum rate. Modrakee also reported that illegal deductions were taken from the workers for housing that Global was obligated to provide, and that the workers were not provided with transportation to their work site. Global was fined $459,256.
From 2004 to 2007, Orian faced challenges in Washington State. The United Farm Workers of America (UFW) claimed Orian was exploiting workers, and that led to a federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor in to hour and wage violations, the subsequent denial of H-2A visas for Global in Washington State, and the state Department of Labor and Industries’ refusal to license Global. To appease the union, and get laborers back to work, Global Horizons signed a 2006 agreement to set up nationwide rights and guarantees and a grievance process for workers.
In another case, Perez-Farias v. Global Horizons (2008), workers in Washington State sued Global for racial discrimination .
A federal district court jury in Yakima, WA found that Global did discriminate based on race. Global appealed the verdict to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but according to an attorney in the case, its appeal was deemed abandoned by that court and has been dismissed and the jury’s verdict stands as a final determination that Global Horizons discriminated against our clients based on their race.
Last year, there was more legal trouble for Global. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claimed Global Horizons and farms across the U.S. violated the civil rights of 263 workers, and should pay $3.5 million.
Orian maintained that his company has been vindicated at every turn for every accusation and that the claims against him are lies.
He said the federal government is playing hardball with him in the trafficking case, handcuffing his wife when agents came to arrest him in California, and harassing his family in front of their friends.
Since his indictment, Orian has been held in Hawaii against his will, first in a federal detention center for a month, then under house arrest, and now under curfew at Ala Moana Hotel.
He’s appealed to the U.S. District Court on multiple occasions to allow him to fly back to his home and business headquarters in California, where he can mount the defense he needs with his own lawyers, have access to his 4, 40-foot Matson-style containers filled with legal and personnel files, Most important to him, he wants to see his family.
In federal detention in Hawaii, Orian, an Orthodox Jew, said he was not provided with a kosher diet or allowed to worship in peace without one of the main guards antagonizing him. He’s also been unable to see his family on Hanukkah or be with his son at his recent Bar Mitzvah except by videoconference.
In search of a team of lawyers to represent him, Orian recently traveled to San Francisco to conduct interviews and he hopes he will be allowed to return home to Los Angeles soon to be at home where he can prepare for his trial.
Global Horizon’s Ties to Hawaii
Orian first came to Hawaii for work purposes about a decade ago with Aloun Farms’ owners Mike and Alec Sou as his clients. Orian sent them a postcard in the mail about his business, and the brothers contacted him. Orian stayed at the Sous’ apartment on Bishop Street while they worked out an agreement and a plan.
The first group of Thai workers that Orian planned to bring to Arizona, in fact were rerouted to Aloun from Los Angeles where they were waiting for a month to get to work. Orian says that was 2002 and 2003, and delays in the visa approval process and a change of heart by Arizona farmers, put his plan for the Thai workers in jeopardy. Since the Sou brothers were applying to bring over workers from Thailand, the timing to bring the workers from LA to Hawaii instead of Arizona worked out.
Aloun is the second-largest farm in Hawaii and its owners, the Sou Brothers, also have been indicted on separate charges of visa fraud, obstruction of justice and forced labor conspiracy related to the trafficking of Thai workers.
Federal prosecutors filed a superseding indictment on October 27 against the Sou brothers accusing them of 12 criminal acts related to a forced labor scheme involving Thai workers at their Kapolei-based Asian vegetable farm on Oahu. The Sous pled not guilty October 30, and the case is scheduled to go to trial in July 2011.
The federal prosecuting team is the same on both cases including U.S. prosecutors Susan Franch and Susan Cushman.
Though being prosecuted separately, Orian believes his indictment, which came after the Sou brothers’ indictment, may be a result of the Aloun case.
Global Horizons provided labor for other farms in Hawaii, including Maui Pineapple Farm, Del Monte and macadamia nut, coffee and flower farms on the Big Island and a coffee farm on Kauai.
The indictment unsealed against Global Horizons in mid January says said Orian along with Thai recruiters and his workers exploited an estimated 600 farm workers between 2001 to August 2007, at farms in Hawaii, as well as Arizona, Mississippi, California, Utah and New York.
It alleges that Global Horizon confiscated passports and transported the workers by private aircraft to control workers. The indictment also claims that defendants took advantage of workers earning $1,000 a year in Thailand, promising them $2,000 per month for eight hours of work per day plus overtime. Workers were required to pay upfront recruitment fees ranging from $9,500 to $26,500, with workers who had to borrow the money told to use their land and homes as collateral.
Orian maintains that he never took recruitment fees, even though it was legal for him to do so. In Thailand, there are official labor recruiters who are bound by law to take no more than 65,000 baht (1 Thai baht = 0.0324 US dollars), Orian said.
He maintained that he is not responsible for the choices that the Thai workers made to pay a recruiting company more than they could afford and he should not be held financially liable.
The accommodations for workers, which the federal government claims were subpar, were in fact fine accommodations that were approved by the Labor Department, Orian said.
Orian has a home on the Big Island, and one accusation against him is that he ordered the workers to perform maintenance on his home without pay. He says he allowed Thai workers to live there in exchange for labor when there were no farming jobs available.
Orian says he is familiar with the H2A labor recruitment program, because he knew the person in charge of establishing the program and offered guidance to the United States. The program started with the creation of H2A guest worker visas established through the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, and expanded to include categories for agricultural workers (H2A), professional skilled workers (H-1B), and unskilled non-agriculture workers (H-2B) under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). He says he did not violate its rules.
Orian wrote in Corpwatch.org in 2007: “The H-2A agricultural worker program is the most protective and regulated employment program in the United States, and perhaps the world.”
The H-2A workers do not pay federal taxes on their wages and employers are required to provide free housing, transportation, utilities, medical insurance in some states, and round trip tickets to and from the place of employment, he added.
“All these benefits add up to a typical monthly saving of between $1500 and $2500 for each worker. There are not too many United States citizens or residents who can save that type of money.”
As far as Orian knows, no workers in Hawaii were threatened with physical harm or hurt in any way and that a fight in Maui came after his manager was stabbed by an intoxicated worker.
He said no Global Horizons employee was ever terminated or moved for complaining about any issue. “To the contrary, every complaint has been addressed with great care.”
The accusations are “part of the campaign against me and my company”, Orian said, maintaining that past government efforts to prosecute him have failed. Orian says he plans once again to prove his innocence.
Correction: A federal district court jury in Yakima, WA found that Global did in fact discriminate based on race.