Monday, July 23, 2012

Human Trafficking Case Against Executives Is Dismissed

Human Trafficking Case Against Executives Is Dismissed
Published: July 21, 2012
HONOLULU (AP) — A federal judge on Friday dismissed human trafficking charges against executives and business associates of a labor recruiting company accused of exploiting hundreds of farmworkers from Thailand by confiscating their passports, putting them into debt and threatening to deport them.

The move came after prosecutors requested the dismissal of the case against two top officials of Global Horizons Inc., the chief executive, Mordechai Orian, and the company’s director of international relations, Pranee Tubchumpol.

Eight people were originally indicted, and three have pleaded guilty.

The authorities accused the company, which is based in Los Angeles, of manipulating 600 Thai workers it placed at farms across the United States. It was the federal government’s largest human trafficking case.

Mr. Orian’s trial had been scheduled to take place in Honolulu next month.

The case was in jeopardy after federal prosecutors abruptly dropped similar accusations against the owners of Aloun Farms in Hawaii last year. That case prompted an investigation that found that the federal government would not be able to prove the charges in the Global Horizons case, according to the dismissal order.

“Based on this further investigation, the government has determined that dismissal of this matter is in the interest of justice, because the government is unable to prove the elements of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt,” the order said.

Michael Green, a lawyer for Global Horizons in Honolulu, called the dismissal a “moral victory” but said it did not make up for all the time, money and emotional effort spent fighting the charges.

“To dismiss a case with no intention of bringing it back as a new indictment is very unusual,” Mr. Green said. “You never see the government just walk away from a case that they spent millions of dollars on.”

After the accusations were dropped against the brothers who own Aloun Farms, Alec and Michael Sou, the fate of the Global Horizons case became unclear. The companies were accused of using the same tactics to keep foreign workers in their service.

The case against the Sous fell apart when the lead prosecutor, Susan French, conceded that she inaccurately stated to a grand jury that workers could not be charged recruiting fees when they traveled to Hawaii in 2004. The law was changed in late 2008 to prohibit recruiting fees.

Ms. French stepped down from the prosecution team shortly afterward because of unspecified health problems.

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