Largest Human Trafficking Case in U.S. History Filed in Honolulu
UPDATED 10/20/11 12 p.m.
A federal grand jury in Honolulu has indicted six people for conspiring to keep more than 600 Thai immigrants1 as indentured laborers on farms in Hawaii, Washington, New York and other states.
"This is the largest human trafficking case ever charged in U.S. history," said FBI Special Agent Tom Simon, who is based in Honolulu.
According to an indictment unsealed today, the defendants worked with labor recruiters in Thailand and enticed the Thai nationals to come to the U.S. with false promises of lucrative jobs. Many of the workers went into debt and put their family homes up as collateral in order to pay large recruitment fees. Nearly all of the 400 alleged victims were forced to work on farms in Hawaii before being moved to farms in Washington state.
The indictment covers the period from May 2004 through September 2005. The workers were brought into the country legally under the U.S. agricultural guest worker program. About a dozen Hawaii farms were involved, though none has been charged, Simon said.
"We're trying to determine the extent that each farm in Hawaii was aware this was occurring," he said.
Immigration lawyers and non-governmental organizations in Hawaii brought the case to the FBI in Honolulu in 2008, Simon said. Today's five-count indictment was the result of a two-year investigation.
These developments come one week before sentencing in another major Hawaii human trafficking case. Alec and Mike Sou, owners of the well-known Aloun Farms in Kapolei, pleaded guilty in January of conspiring to commit forced labor involving 44 Thai workers. They were supposed to be sentenced in July, but after a dramatic five-hour hearing during which they appeared to backpedal on their guilty charges, the judge postponed their sentencing to Sept. 9.
At the center of today's indictment is Global Horizons Manpower Inc., a Los Angeles, Calif.-based labor-recruiting firm that had already been in the news for providing inexpensive labor to now-defunct Maui Pineapple Co.*
An earlier version of this story stated that case involved 400 Thai immigrants. That number has since been revised to 600 workers. ↩