BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN — The U.S. Justice Department in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigations is interviewing up to 100 more witnesses in preparation for convening another grand jury in the Global Horizon/Manpower human trafficking case to issue superceding indictments.
That federal government plan came to light Thursday in U.S. District Court, Honolulu District, during the appearance of defendant Mordechai Yosef Orian, Chief Executive Officer of Global Horizons/Manpower.
Dressed in a perfectly pressed pinstriped suit, Orian, flanked by his new defense attorney, was in court to ask U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Kobayashi to modify the conditions of his release. Facing human trafficking charges related to farm workers his company brought to America from Thailand, Orian on September 3 pled not guilty and was set to go to trial November 3, but the trial was delayed.
Orian, an Israeli national living in California with his wife and three children, was seeking to return to California so he could operate his international business, deal with his home that is now in foreclosure, see his children and wife, and prepare for his defense.
The government previously asked that Orian be held at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center pending trial because they believed he is a flight risk. He was then transferred to a halfway house, in placed in the care of Rabbi Ichel of the Habbat.
With trial set for February 23, and the U.S. Justice department arguing strongly against his transfer, Kobayashi today issued a compromise. Orian will remain in Hawaii and be required to cooperate with a curfew and GPS monitoring, but he will have more freedom to see his lawyer and attend religious services.
The judge said he could make the same request again in another 30 days.
Orian is one of 6 people indicted this year for allegedly engaging in a conspiracy to commit forced labor and document servitude. The other defendants include Pranee Tubchumpol, Shane Germann and Sam Wongsesanit of the Los Angeles-based Global Horizons Manpower Inc., and labor recruiters Ratawan Chunharutai and Podjanee Sinchai. The statement says that “Orian, Tubchumpol and Chunharutai are also charged with three substantive counts of compelling the labor of three Thai guest workers.”
In a statement to the media, the U.S. Justice Department says the charges arose from the defendants’ 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.
Defendants, in a 5 count indictment, 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 have maintained their innocence. If convicted, Orian and Tubchumpol face maximum prison sentences of 70 years, Chunharutai could be sentenced to up to 65 years in prison, and Germann and Wongsesanit could spend up to 10 years in prison. Sinchai, also charged in Thailand with multiple counts of recruitment fraud, could spend up to five years in prison if convicted in the United States.
The case may involve as many as 800 workers and witnesses, Orian's defense attorney said today.
The government is working in cooperation with the Thai Community Development Center in Los Angeles and civil attorneys in Hawaii.
Though some of the workers contracted by Global Horizon worked at Aloun Farms in Kapolei, Hawaii, the Justice Department maintains the Global Horizon indictments are unrelated to the indictments of Aloun farm owners Mike and Alec Sou on similar human trafficking conspiracy charges related to forced labor and visa fraud involving 44 workers they brought from Thailand.