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Firm, others accused of forced labor

September 07 2010

The owner of a Los Angeles staffing firm and five others were indicted on suspicion of holding approximately 400 Thai workers on farms in Hawaii in conditions of forced labor, according to an indictment filed Sept. 1 in U.S. federal court in Hawaii.

Mordechai Orian, owner of the staffing firm, Global Horizons Manpower Inc., pleaded not guilty, according to court filings. In a statement, the company said it complied with requirements of government agencies.

"Global Horizons never abused, neglected, endangered, exploited or discriminated against their workers," according to the statement. "The company has always made their best faith efforts to comply with the laws and provide safe, certified working conditions."

Orian and Pranee Tubchumpol, director of international relations at Global Horizons, face maximum sentences of up to 70 years in prison, according to the FBI.

The incidents allegedly took place from May 2004 through September 2005. Workers had their passports confiscated and were allegedly threatened with arrest and being sent back to Thailand if they did not comply, according to the indictment. In Thailand, the workers would have faced recruitment debts they could not pay off.

Thai workers with incomes of approximately $1,000 U.S. per year were lured to the U.S. with promises of high wages and up to three years of employment, according to the indictment. Workers had to pay fees of $9,500 to $21,000 to gain employment. Some workers took out loans to pay the fees using family land as collateral, according to the indictment. One worker cited a promised wage of $8.72 per hour.

Global Horizon and a firm owned by Chunharutai received portions of the recruitment fees as well as commissions from U.S. growers, according to the indictment.

Others listed in the indictment include Shane Germann, onsite manager; Sam Wongsesanit, an onsite field supervisor; Ratawan Chunharutai, the owner of a Thai-based recruitment firm; and Podjanee Sinchai, the owner of another Thai-based recruitment firm.

Chunharutai faces up to 65 years in prison while Germann and Wongsesanit face up to 10 years in prison, according to the FBI. Sinchai, who was charged in Thailand with multiple counts of recruitment fraud, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison if convicted in the U.S.

A trial date of Nov. 3 has been set for Orian, according to court records.

Kara Lujan, spokesperson for Global Horizons, said there was overkill in the FBI's handling of the case. FBI agents kicked down the door of Orian's Malibu CA home while serving a search warrant; ordered his wife and three children, ages 5, 11, and 13, on the ground at gunpoint; and handcuffed his wife, Lujan said. Orian was not at home when the search warrant was served.

Orian has no criminal record and is not violent, Lujan said. "We just felt it was just overkill," she said.

Lujan also stressed that Orian did not try to flee and never tried to mislead negotiations for surrender, contrary to other reports. Orian flew to Honolulu and turned himself in to agents at the office of his attorney.

To read Global Horizons' full statement, click here.

To read the indictment, click here.

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