Mike and Alex Sou at their Kapolei-base Aloun Farm
Mike and Alec Sou at their Kapolei-based vegetable farm Aloun

Jury selection for the trial of Aloun Farms Owners Michael Mankone Sou and Alec Souphone Sou began Wednesday with more than 100 potential jurors interviewed in U.S. District Court.

Honolulu U.S. District Court Judge Susan Oki Mollway will oversee what is expected to be a three- to four-week trial to determine whether the brothers are guilty of 12 charges related to forced labor, document servitude and visa fraud related to their Thai worker recruitment.

Jury selection will continue Thursday morning with opening statements in the case beginning in the afternoon.

Minor issues that arose on the first day of the trial:

The defense council argued briefly yesterday against the government using a Thai translator who had previously worked for the FBI, but because the translator, who is being flow in from Utah, will be here just one day, so in the end, the defense allowed it. Translators who are certified and can speak in this particular Thai dialect are apparently rare. The prosecutors said yesterday that it will cost $50,000 per translator for the duration of the three to four week trial and two translators are needed to ensure accuracy.

Defense attorney Thomas Otake acknowledged that he knew two people in the jury pool, so they were released early.

One of the attorneys on the defense team had represented three of the witnesses in the past before the grand jury, creating a potential conflict of interest.

The federal judge also denied the defense’s request to keep from the trial any information related to Global Horizons Manpower Inc., the company that originally brought workers to Aloun in 2003.

Eight people tied to Global Horizons and its recruitment have been charged in a separate alleged human trafficking case, deemed by the FBI as the “largest human trafficking ring in U.S. history,” that is set to go to trial next year. Three Global Horizons employees have already pled guilty to reduced charges in exchange for their testimony.

The public can attend the Aloun trial at the U.S. District Court on Punchbowl Street.  See more about the case here.

Hawaii Reporter broke the news about the alleged human trafficking of Thai workers to Aloun Farms in 2007 and has won investigative and online news awards from Society of Professional Journalists for coverage of this story.

The case, which made the New York Times editorial page, is the subject of a French documentary and will be featured in a series on Al Jazeera London television. The story is making news in Asia, with Hawaii Reporter’s stories featured in the Bangkok Post. Of interest to many American and foreign reporters is the fact that two former governors and some of Hawaii’s most influential bankers, agricultural leaders and business people, are openly siding with the brothers, writing letters to the judge and issuing statements to the news media.

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