Six recruiters were accused Thursday of luring 400 laborers from Thailand to the United States and forcing them to work, according to a federal indictment that the FBI called the largest human-trafficking case ever charged in U.S. history.The indictment alleges that the scheme was orchestrated by four employees of labor recruiting company Global Horizons Manpower Inc. and two Thailand-based recruiters. It said the recruiters lured the workers with false promises of lucrative jobs, then confiscated their passports, failed to honor their employment contracts and threatened to deport them.
Israeli national and Global Horizons CEO Mordechai Orian, 45, has been charged with leading the conspiracy. Orian’s spokeswoman told Haaretz that he was not a dangerous man, and that he has turned himself over to the FBI and did not intend to flee. She said further that he expects to be released on Wednesday.
Once the Thai laborers arrived in the United States starting in May 2004, they were put to work and have since been sent to sites in states including Hawaii, Washington, California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah, according to attorneys and advocates.
Many laborers were initially taken to farms in Hawaii and Washington, where work conditions were the worst, said Chancee Martorell, executive director for the Los Angeles-based Thai Community Development Center, which represents 263 Thai workers who were brought to the U.S. by Global Horizons.
A woman who answered the phone at Global Horizons’ Los Angeles office refused to take a message seeking comment Thursday.
The six defendants include Orian; Director of International Relations Pranee Tubchumpol, 44; Hawaii regional supervisor Shane Germann, 41; and onsite field supervisor Sam Wongsesanit, 39. The Thailand recruiters were identified as Ratawan Chunharutai and Podjanee Sinchai.
They face maximum sentences ranging from five years to 70 years in prison, according to the Department of Justice.
Two were arrested Thursday morning in Los Angeles and Fargo, N.D., said Simon. Another Global Horizons employee was expected to turn himself in, and the United States will work with Thailand’s government to apprehend the remaining two suspects.
“In the old days, they used to keep slaves in their places with whips and chains. Today it’s done with economic threats and intimidation,” Simon said.
Honolulu immigration attorney Melissa Vincenty said the indictment against Global Horizons is a major blow to labor trafficking nationwide.
“Global was the big fish in all of this. It’s a pretty big case, with hundreds and hundreds of workers,” said Vincenty, who represents 56 of the Thai laborers. “They’re all over the United States.”
Orian’s public relations representative, Kara Lujan of “KSL public relations”, negotiated his surrender with the FBI.
“On Thursday, at 5 a.m., the FBI broke into his house in Malibu, California, while he was on a business trip to Texas,” Lujan told Haaretz. “They broke the front door, the window, and handcuffed his wife when they had absolutely no reason to do so.”
“His wife called him and alerted him so he called his in-house attorney – who called me and asked to negotiate with the FBI on his behalf, because we felt it wouldn’t be wise for him to turn himself in while in Texas, where he had no representation,” she added.
“So on Friday he flew to Honolulu and took a taxi to his attorney’s office where the FBI agents were waiting for him,” Lujan explained.
The prosecution has asked to detain Orian until his trial, but he hopes to be released on bail by Wednesday, she said.
“The trial might begin in October but we believe it might take a year or so,” said Lujan. “Ministries of Labor and Justice have been targeting him for two to four years, so if he had wanted to flee, he would have done it years ago. He is not a flight risk, he is not a danger to society. He pleaded not guilty on Friday, denying the charges. He never threatened Thai workers, never took their passports, and there is no evidence of that.”
“He turned himself in to face the indictment, he’s been cooperating with the FBI. On the contrary – he’s been fighting a deportation case for years – they are trying to send him back to Israel.”
Lujan said the company Global Horizons has been out of business for nearly four years, and that these days Orian had been working with several other companies, including Grand American Foods.
“Global Horizons never abused, neglected, endangered, exploited, or discriminated against their workers,” the company said in a statement in response to the allegations. “The company has always made their best faith efforts to comply with laws and provide safe, certified working conditions.”