BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Shane Germann, an on site manager for Global Horizons and regional supervisor for local farms who was charged in what has been deemed the largest human trafficking scheme in America, will withdraw his “Not Guilty” plea and enter another plea on May 4, 2011, at 9:45 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway.
Germann, who could have spent up to 30 years in prison, 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, also withdrew his not guilty plea – Judge Mollway will sentence him on September 12.
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 “the Global Horizons House of Cards is falling one by one by one.”
She sees the changes in pleas as good news for the federal government’s case, which includes hundreds of witnesses, six defendants and multiple federal government agencies such as 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.
In addition to Germann, Mordechai Yosef Orian, Pranee Tubchumpol, Sam Wongsesanit, Ratawan Chunharutai, and Podjanee Sinchai, were federally indicted on September 1, 2010. The FBI reports that each defendant is associated with the California-based labor recruiter Global Horizons Manpower Inc. and recruiters for Global Horizons in Thailand.
A 10-count superseding indictment against defendants Joseph Knoller and Bruce Schwartz was issued January 14, 2011.
Orian, Chief Executive Officer of Global Horizons/Manpower, is a major focus of the investigation. All along, including in this exclusive report with Hawaii Reporter, Orian has maintained that he is innocent of all charges and said that a handful of high-ranking government officials have conspired on several occasions to ruin his business, his finances, his life and take his freedom.
The U.S. Justice Department charged 6 defendants in alleged scheme to “coerce the labor and services” of an estimated 400 Thai nationals brought by the defendants under the U.S. federal agricultural guest worker program from Thailand to the United States to work on farms across the country between May 2004 and September 2005.”
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.”
The indictment claims that defendants “arranged 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.”
The Justice Department says that after arrival in the United States, the defendants took the Thai nationals’ passports, did not honor their employment contracts, but keep 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 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 five years in prison if convicted in the United States.
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.
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.
Calling the case “its largest human trafficking case in agriculture to date,” the EEOC contends “Global Horizons engaged in a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, when it trafficked over 200 Thai male victims to farms in Hawaii and Washington where they were subjected to severe abuse.”
The local farm owners in Hawaii in this case said they are not guilty of any labor violations. The farm owners have not been charged criminally.
Reached by phone last week, Global Horizons CEO Mordechai “Motty” Yosef Orian told Hawaii Reporter that the lawsuit and accusations were “all nonsense” and that he would say “what we need to when the time comes.” He added, “It is not going to do any good to respond at this point.”
Aloun Farms, which has not been included in the EEOC civil lawsuit, hired Global workers in 2003 and was the first farm in Hawaii to partner with Global in bringing Thai workers to Hawaii, according to a Hawaii Reporter interview with Orian.
Aloun Farms, which sells Asian vegetables grown on its Kapolei-based farm on Oahu, later imported its own workers from Thailand, mimicking Global’s business model.
Prior to the case against Global, the Aloun owners, brothers Mike and Alec Sou, 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.