Monday, August 13, 2012
Trafficked Thai farm workers write to Attorney General Eric Holder after trial cancellation
by Larry Geller
Cancellation of the charges against Global Horizons, in what was billed as the largest human trafficking case in US history, surprised and shocked both farm workers and advocates. Suddenly, it was clear that there would be no justice for the treatment that the workers reported they had endured. The Thai workers have just written to Attorney General Eric Holder, but it is not clear what remedy they might receive.
The Department of Justice seemed overwhelmed when its attorneys asked judge Richard L. Puglisi on Friday, 12/2/2011 to grant them more time to sort through documents and hard drives that they removed from the offices of Global Horizons about a year earlier. Ultimately, the start date for the trial was delayed until August, 2012.
The DOJ cited the need to go through 101 million documents on 77 hard drives confiscated from Global Horizons. The defense attorney for Global Horizons CEO Mordechai Orian suggested to the judge that at the rate the DOJ was processing the documents, it would take them 25 years to complete the job. The DOJ had stated that it needed to review each of them to sort out which were protected under attorney-client privilege, and that Orian had identified 72 names of attorneys to the DOJ. It was a mess. What was clear, though, was that the DOJ attorneys were struggling.
Meanwhile, three other defendants had pled guilty and detailed actions they took as employees of Global Horizons in their plea filings. That information would have informed a jury, had the trial taken place. These defendants will now be allowed to plead anew. The human trafficking case is not going to happen. It’s all over.
Except it isn’t over for the Thai workers, who cooperated with investigators and expected that American justice would prevail.
Today the Hawaii Reporter, which has taken the lead in human trafficking investigation and reporting, posted two articles, reproduced below. The first includes an open letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, and the second is a statement at a press conference held by the Thai Community Development Center in Los Angeles.
Open Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder from Thai Workers Impacted by Federal Government's Decision to Drop Labor Trafficking Charges Against Global Horizons Principals
August 13, 2012
Eric Holder, Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20530-0001
Re: Dismissal of Global Horizons Case
Dear Attorney General Holder:
We are the Thai farm workers who were victims of labor trafficking in the Global Horizons Manpower Case. It was not easy for us to come here. We have had to incur enormous debts and submit ourselves to tremendous hardship and exploitation, but we came because we could scarcely provide for our families with the meager resources we have at home. We have left behind our families with the hope that we would receive a just wage for our labor. Instead, we were forced into a terrible situation that none of us had expected. Many of us were sent back home to Thailand when we protested our conditions, but the rest of us who remained on US soil believed that we could find justice in this country.
We were told that we would be safe because the rule of law in the US was trustworthy. We knew that back home we would be in definite danger. Since we reported the trafficking to the US government, we were told that the crimes were being investigated.
Some of us spent hours upon hours detailing our experience over and over again to federal agents. Many of us still had the documents needed to prove everything we said was true. So much time had passed, several years, and we still had faith in the US justice system. We knew that the perpetrators of this crime would have to face their punishment one day because they were wrong to take our money, dignity, and land.
After this long and difficult struggle we are told that all criminal charges are dismissed, even though some of the accused had already pled guilty. After years and years of investigation, we were mortified to hear this news just a month before trial. We were ready to face the wrongdoers, ready to go to the courthouse in Honolulu to confront Motti, Pranee, Sam, and all the rest of them about what they had done to us. We wanted justice.
We are sorry that this case has come to an abrupt end without ever being tried. We are especially sorry because we know what we have undergone and what we are still enduring today because of Global and nothing is ever going to change that fact.
The Thai Farm Workers
Thai CDC Director Addresses Impact of Feds Dropping Global Horizons Criminal Case on Verge of Historic Trial
Editor's note: The Thai Community Development Center in Los Angeles held a Press Conference today in Response to Dismissal of US vs. Orian, et al. The following is the press statement issued by Chanchanit Martorell, the Thai CDC Executive Director. While the Thai CDC is located in California, many Global workers were working in Hawaii and the criminal trial was scheduled to be held in August 2012 in Honolulu's US District Court
Good morning, my name is Chanchanit Martorell, Executive Director of the Thai Community Development Center. Standing behind me are the Thai farmworkers from the largest human trafficking case in US history. On July 20th, 2012, I received a phone call from Assistant US Attorney, Robert Moossy, Jr., Acting Chief of the US Department of Justice Criminal Section, and his team, informing me that the US case against Mordechai Orian and his associates has been dismissed. The Justice Department also withdrew the guilty pleas of three other defendants. That phone call was followed up by a formal letter addressed to me explaining the reason for the Justice Department’s dismissal.
Needless to say, my staff and I were shocked and dismayed by the unexpected news just one month before the criminal trial was finally set to take place.
The Thai Community Development Center has been helping the Justice Department build its case against Mordechai Orian, CEO of Global Horizons Manpower Company, since 2003 when the first Thai farmworker escaped from the Hawaiian plantation where he had been placed by Global to pick fruits in abysmal working conditions. The Thai farmworker escaped because he found himself living and working as a virtual slave of the plantation where he was confined in dilapidated housing, kept under 24 hour surveillance, restricted from any movement, and stripped of his passport. In the course of the following two years, we discovered that this Thai farmworker was only one of 1,100 Thai farmworkers trafficked by Global to the U.S. to work on farms in over a dozen states. The truth came to light as several more of these farmworkers escaped from similar conditions and came to Thai CDC to tell us their story and seek justice. In every instance they would tell us the same story of deception, coercion and high recruitment fees which inevitably led to insurmountable debt. Global’s business boomed thanks to the guest worker H2-A visa program, designed to fill the shortage of agricultural workers in the US with temporary workers from abroad. What the Global case has proven, is that the H-2A guest worker program is nothing but a license to traffic impoverished farmworkers into slavery in the U.S.
According to the letter from the Criminal Section of the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, they were “unable to prove the elements of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, they reassured us that their “decision to dismiss should not be interpreted as a negative reflection on your clients. In addition, some of your clients already have been determined …to be victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons.”
Just these two sentences alone seem to be contradictory! On the one hand they can’t prove Global is guilty, but on the other hand, the workers are victims of human trafficking?! In light of their recent decision to not bring criminal charges against the financial giant Goldman Sachs for improper trading of subprime mortgages during the financial crisis, it appears that the Obama Administration and Attorney General Eric Holder have traded in their principles for political expediency during an election year. In the case of Goldman Sachs, the Justice Department issued an unsigned statement concluding that: "Based on the law and evidence as they exist at this time, there is not a viable basis to bring a criminal prosecution with respect to Goldman Sachs or its employees in regard to the allegations set forth in the [Senate] report."
In the Global case, despite an extensive investigation by the Justice Department involving countless interviews of our clients in Los Angeles and Hawaii and the accumulation of boxes and boxes of documents and evidence spanning four years, the case still cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt?!
This outcome is simply not credible and not acceptable. Thai CDC will not give up its pursuit of justice on behalf of the victimized farm workers. The civil case filed in 2005 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Global and the farm owners for violations of the workers’ civil rights and for discrimination based on race and nationality will continue to be vigorously pursued as the workers’ only remaining means of obtaining justice for the wrongs they suffered.
The dismissal of the largest human trafficking case in US history comes on the 17th anniversary of the famed El Monte Thai Garment Slavery Case considered the first case of modern day slavery in the US. However, instead of moving forward to combat labor trafficking and prosecute its perpetrators, the Justice Department has sent a signal to all traffickers that they have nothing to fear if they go through the motions of obtaining a temporary visa.
These latest victims of trafficking represent the human dimension of global capitalism and the race to the bottom by multinational corporations to reap exorbitant profits at the expense of workers. Modern day slavery has not occurred by accident. One important factor is the new world economy which makes capital mobile in search of cheaper labor. Modernization and globalization of the world economy are also driving people off their land and into slavery because there is enormous indirect value of slave labor to the world economy. Extraordinary profits are being reaped from slave produced goods as consumers seek more bargains. The new world economy also places greater emphasis on economic growth versus sustainable development in the developing world.
We are here today to inform you that egregious exploitation and abuse in the workplace even tantamount to human trafficking, debt bondage, forced labor, and slavery cannot continue to exist and grow unrelentingly. Seventeen years after El Monte, we find that the scourge of modern-day slavery was not just a short-lived phenomenon but a new business model that is propagating like a cancer, rapidly and unabated.
Is this generation of Americans doomed to live in a neo-feudal society where the wealthy few live like kings amidst a sea of human misery? Is this the best we can do for our country, the land of the free and the brave?
The El Monte Case was truly the first labor struggle of global proportions our city had seen, proving that if capital could redraw the old boundaries in its favor, so could the people, and the legacy of that campaign is our ramped up fight to bring justice to the Thai farm workers.
We need to ensure that globalization provides benefits and opportunities for workers everywhere, rather than triggering a “race to the bottom.”
As the enslaved El Monte Thai workers nobly pointed out themselves, their fight was never simply about money because one can never put a price on freedom. Their fight is part of a greater struggle that is being enacted every day around the world. It is the struggle to bring accountability and justice to an economic system that has grown dependent on the ruthless exploitation of a defenseless and disenfranchised labor force to churn out ever increasing profits of unprecedented proportions.