Legal Problems Build for Global Horizons CEO; Alleged Human Trafficker Loses First Round in Civil Labor Case, But Has Already Appealed
BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - Legal problems continue to build for Global Horizons Manpower Inc. CEO Mordechai Orian.
The U.S. Department of Justice has already criminally charged Orian and several of his Global employees in what the FBI is calling the largest human trafficking scheme in America for their treatment of Thai workers that they recruited to work in Hawaii and other states.
In a separate civil case filed last month, 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 involving 200 Thai workers. The commission wants back pay as much as $300,000 in damages for each worker who they said had their rights violated when they had their passports confiscated and were threatened with deportation and violence if they complained about poor housing and working conditions.
Orian also is involved in a host of other civil litigation in California.
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor announced it won an administrative hearing against Global on May 6 that orders the now defunct employment company to pay 88 Thai agricultural workers once employed in Hawaii at Del Monte and Aloun Farms operations $153,000 in back wages and $194,000 in civil money penalties.
The 146-page decision issued by Administrative Law Judge William Dorsey found Global Horizons and its Orian liable for 11 categories of violations of the federal H-2A temporary non-immigrant agricultural laborer program. The DOL is seeking back wage payments for the Thai workers, penalty assessments for the federal government and a mandatory three-year debarment for Orian and his businesses from participation in the H-2A program.
Orian is confident that he will be found not guilty of all of the accusations. He said he is not worried about the civil and criminal charges against him because he knows he will be vindicated in the end.
Orian is under house arrest in Hawaii, but with permission of the court has traveled to California for legal counsel. Reached by phone in California Thursday, Orian questioned why the federal government is spending millions of dollars to pursue charges against his company, which has been defunct and unable to use the H2-A visa program since 2006.
Orian has already appealed the administrative ruling to the DOL Administrative Review Board and looks forward to vindication in a year or longer in “real court of law with a real judge.”
Randy Shiner, a San Diego civil attorney representing Orian, said “It is more than likely that the Administrative Review Board will uphold ALJ Dorsey's ruling,” but he and his client intend to appeal it and will receive a brand new trial at the District Court level.
Both Orian and Shiner point out that the Department of Labor has pursued several other cases against Global and lost – and that the DOL has only released “victories and not defeats” to the news media.
Orian said the workers are lying to authorities because they want to live and work in America where they can take $2,000 a month instead of $60 a month back home.
However, key players in this case who are backing the Thai workers believe this is another major blow to the once powerful and influential immigrant worker placement company.
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 who were allegedly trafficked here from Thailand, said this decision validates the claims of the victims.
“Regardless of any appeal and delay in their receiving compensation, it represents a moral victory and a warning to others engaging in similar exploitation of others,” Hanusz said.
They are pleased that the DOL took complaints of the Thai workers seriously, as Hanusz said the lengthy findings of facts in the decision reveal. However she said the Orian’s appeal is unfortunate, even if the DOL decision is upheld as she believes it will be, because it will delay compensation for the victims and their families.
Hanusz also points out that the decision only affects 88 of the hundreds of workers brought to Hawaii and exploited on farms throughout the state. “We hope the DOL continues its investigations and the victims are able to recoup some of the financial damage they have suffered.”
Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said it’s appropriate that Global Horizons and its owner are barred from employing H-2A workers for the next three years. “These workers left their families and homes with the expectation that they would be treated fairly and paid properly. Instead, Global Horizons violated multiple rules under the H-2A program designed to protect both domestic and foreign workers, and provide a level playing field for all agricultural employers.”
DOL Details Alleged Violations
In Hawaii, the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division’s Western Region reports employees were not paid for all hours worked and were not paid the correct hourly wage rate because illegal deductions for meals, utilities and other living expenses were made from their paychecks. In addition, workers were not paid for their transportation and subsistence costs as required under federal law.
When they spoke up at Aloun about being underpaid, farm owners Alec and Mike Sou retaliated against the workers, the DOL said. "It is also clear that the Respondents, themselves and through their agent Aloun Farms, retaliated against the AACO-recruited workers who worked at Aloun Farms for their complaints," the complaint said.
Aloun Farm owners Mike and Alec Sou are charged separately in a criminal human trafficking case relating to the farm importing 44 Thai workers in 2004. Both Sou brothers have maintained their innocence in the criminal case.
All owners of the other 6 farms charged by the EEOC have maintained their innocence and said the Thai workers were treated properly, paid in full and had stellar living conditions.
As to Global, the battle continues between the CEO who maintains his innocence and a host of government agencies that said Orian is guilty of a host of civil and criminal infractions.
The DOL points out that the Global debarment ordered in this most recent case comes after a Dec. 21, 2010 ruling by the Labor Department’s Administrative Review Board, which affirmed in another H2-A case in California, a $199,600 judgment against both Global Horizons and Orian. “The board found that Global Horizons and Orian gave preferential treatment to H-2A workers over U.S. workers and committed many of the same violations as in the Hawaii case,” a DOL statement said.
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