Global Horizons CEO Mordechai Orian, at Hawaii Reporter’s request, issued this statement on June 16, 2011, about Sam Wongsesanit’s Tuesday’s plea deal with federal prosecutors. Wongsesanit, a field manager for Global Horizons, was charged with six counts related to a forced labor conspiracy, but in his deal with prosecutors, pled guilty to one count. He is the third defendant of eight to make a deal with prosecutors who are pursing Orian and others in a human trafficking conspiracy.
BY MORDECHAI ORIAN – Concerning Sam Wongsesanit’s plea, he and his lawyer made a strategic decision that they felt, under his particular circumstances, was best for Sam. His plea has no bearing whatsoever on what really happened and why, inasmuch as his goal in settling with the government was to avoid going to trial for reasons that are between Sam and his lawyer.
I, on the contrary, am looking forward to my trial because I know that the reasons the passports were collected were perfectly legal and otherwise legitimate in every other respect. Global Horizons, Inc. (I personally was absolutely not the employer) brought the first group of H2-A workers to Hawaii in 2003. They all had their passports, Social Security Cards, as well as (in some cases) California and Hawaii State Identification Cards. One day, ICE picked them up and put them in detention even though each had 10 days left on their visas, and took their visas.
Global immediately filed a mandamus action to force the Government to release them immediately. In order to settle that matter, and to allow the INS to save face, we agreed that they could leave the country and return later, which is exactly what happened. They left in April of 2003 and returned that August to another of Global’s clients in the state of Georgia. During the time they were in Thailand, each worker went through extensive interviews with the Thai Ministry of Labor, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the US Embassy, all of whom made sure that each worker received all of his pay.
During their time in Georgia, their passports were stolen. This created a nightmare scenario for our company, since our whole business relied upon the workers having valid visas, and without a passport we could not apply for extensions to them within the very short time frame – a maximum of 15 days – that in reality was allowed by the US government. The INS required each worker, in order to get a valid I-94 permit to allow them to stay in the US, to allow the copying of each original page of their passport.
Because of this requirement, we obtained approval in writing (in Thai) to hold their passports for safekeeping so that when the time came to need to renew their I-94 permit to stay in the US, we could do so without worrying whether each worker’s passport was stolen or lost, since the time period, as I stated earlier, that the US government allows to extend the visa is in reality a maximum of 15 days so that there was absolutely no room for error. Without getting the workers’ visa extensions in a timely manner, we would have no business. Global Horizons was responsible for maintaining the legality of our guest workers – the whole idea behind H2-A. This was the only thing we cared about and was the only reason we took possession of the passports.
Every time a worker absconded, we had to send the Thai Embassy their passport. When they had to move from one area of the country to another, they all had their passports in hand because it was required. Later, in 2006, when we entered into a Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) with the UFW, we gave the Union possession of the passports under that CBA.
Sam W was one of many supervisors working for Global Horizons. In my view, he plead guilty to something that was not criminal in intent in any way, but again, Sam and his lawyer had their own reasons that I am obviously not privy to. I do know this: that the allegation that Global’s employees, including Sam, somehow figuratively or otherwise held a gun to the workers’ heads to take possession of their passports is just completely wrong for the reasons set forth above.
My attorney Randy Shiner and I were in a trial before USDOL Administrative Law Judge Steven B. Berlin this past Monday, June 13. The principal investigator, Phillipda Modrakee, testified clearly that she had “perfect access” to the workers at all times while conducting her investigation. If all of what they allege in the indictment is true, why didn’t the workers complain to her then – in 2005- that they were being exploited or abused?
That they waited until Plaintiff’s lawyers and the DOJ surrounded them is a significant fact, since each complaining worker would be eligible for a “T” Visa (victim of human trafficking) making them eligible for permanent residency which would thereby allow not only them, but their whole family to immigrate legally to the US.
Very importantly, Ms. Modrakee’s own documents state quite clearly in particular that there were NO housing violations. Zero. That they complained much, much later to Plaintiff’s lawyers and related horror stories such as appear in the media, is, to understate it, suspect. I am attaching a copy of the USDOL document for your reference. It was entered as Exhibit 16 at the DOL hearing this past Monday. The rest of the violations contained in that document are being contested.
I am a businessman. It was completely against my and my company’s financial interest to terrorize the workers, since the only way Global Horizons made any money is if the workers were in the fields harvesting pineapple. And that their visas remained valid, since our farmer clients were paying a premium – a total of between $14-$16 per hour – for legal labor to comply with the law that forbids the knowing hire of illegal workers who make far, far less money and who are not provided free housing and round-trip tickets to and from their country of origin. Exploited workers are not productive. This is not to mention the fact that it is just plain wrong to do the things that they allege I did either in my personal or corporate capacity. They did not happen.