Published: September 3rd, 2010
The Justice Department announced Thursday that a federal grand jury in Honolulu indicted Mordechai Orian, an Israeli national; Pranee Tubchumpol, Shane Germann and Sam Wongsesanit of Global Horizons Manpower Inc., located in Los Angeles; and Thai labor recruiters Ratawan Chunharutai and Podjanee Sinchai for engaging in a conspiracy to commit forced labor and document servitude.
The charges arise from the defendants’ alleged scheme to coerce the labor and services of approximately 400 Thai nationals brought by the defendants to the U. S. from Thailand from May 2004 through September 2005 to work on farms across the country under the U.S. federal agricultural guest worker program, according to the justice department. Orian, Tubchumpol and Chunharutai are also charged with three substantive counts of compelling the labor of three Thai guest workers. If convicted, Orian and Tubchumpol each face maximum sentences of 70 years in prison, Chunharutai faces a maximum sentence of 65 years in prison, Germann and Wongsesanit each face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and Sinchai, who was recently charged in Thailand with multiple counts of recruitment fraud, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison if convicted in the United States. The indictment alleges that the defendants conspired and devised a scheme to obtain the labor of approximately 400 Thai nationals by enticing them to come to the U.S. with false promises of lucrative jobs, and then maintaining their labor at farms in Washington and Hawaii through threats of serious economic harm. The defendants arranged for the Thai workers to pay high recruitment fees, which were financed by debts secured with the workers’ family property and homes. Significant portions of these fees went to the defendants themselves. After arrival in the United States, the defendants confiscated the Thai nationals’ passports and failed to honor the employment contracts. The defendants maintained the Thai nationals’ labor by threatening to send them back to Thailand, knowing they would face serious economic harms created by the debts. The indictment also alleges that the defendants confined a group of Thai guest workers at Maui Pineapple Farm and demanded an additional fee of US$3,750 to keep their jobs with Global Horizons. Those workers who refused to pay the additional fee were sent back home to Thailand with unpaid debts, subjecting them to the high risk of losing their family homes and land. This case has been investigated by the FBI’s Honolulu Division. Services to victims have been provided by the Thai Community Development Center in Los Angeles. The charges, in a five-count indictment, are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
This is the largest human trafficking case to come out of the United States and involves nearly 400 Thai workers who were recruited under false pretenses to work in the United States on H2-A (agricultural worker) visas. The defendants are six employees of Global Horizons Manpower Inc. including two Thai recruiters. Though the charges for each person vary, two of the defendants are facing up to 70 years in prison.
Read the Full Article Here.
This particular article helps illuminate the specific forms of force fraud or coercion used against the workers. For example, many of the workers had to take out significant debts, sometimes against their families’ homes and properties. When they arrived in the US, the working conditions were not as promised and the workers were paid less than they expected. In one case, the workers were confined on a pineapple farm and told they would have to pay $3,750 to keep working with the company. Those who refused were sent back to Thailand where they faced significant risks including losing their houses for not paying off their debts.
This will likely be a very interesting case to follow and more details are expected to emerge in the coming weeks and months. The trail is set to begin in November.