Two Additional Defendants Charged in Human Trafficking Case Involving Scheme to Hold 400 Thai Nationals in Forced Agricultural Labor
|U.S. Department of Justice January 14, 2011|
WASHINGTON—The Justice Department announced today that a federal grand jury in Honolulu has returned a 10-count superseding indictment charging defendants Joseph Knoller and Bruce Schwartz, both of Los Angeles, as co-conspirators in a scheme to hold 400 Thai nationals in compelled service as agricultural workers in the District of Hawaii and elsewhere. Knoller and Schwartz are charged along with six co-defendants charged in an earlier indictment returned on Sept. 1, 2010: Mordecai Orian, Pranee Tubchumpol, Shane Germann, Sam Wongsesanit, Ratawan Chunharutai, and Podjanee Sinchai, each of whom is associated with California-based labor recruiter Global Horizons Manpower Inc. and the recruiters that served as Global Horizons’ labor recruiting agents in Thailand.
The superseding indictment also charges Schwartz with conspiracy to commit document servitude, along with four co-conspirators previously charged with that offense. In addition, the indictment alleges four additional counts of forced labor and document servitude; and charges Orian with committing immigration-related offenses for financial gain. The indictment seeks forfeiture of an aircraft that Orian and his co-conspirators used to transport workers among Hawaiian Islands.
According to the indictment, the defendants engaged in a scheme from 2001 to 2007 to compel the labor of hundreds of Thai agricultural workers by using false promises to induce the workers to incur insurmountable debts, and then using a scheme of threats, intimidation, and controls to hold the workers in the service of Global Horizons and its agricultural grower clients, often for little or no pay. The defendants and their associates recruited impoverished Thai nationals, charging high recruitment fees that required the recruits to incur substantial debts, frequently secured by their family homes and subsistence lands as collateral, based on promises of lucrative employment that would allow them to repay the debt. After arrival in the United States, the indictment charges, the defendants confiscated the workers’ passports and required them to labor in the fields of Global Horizons’ agricultural grower clients. The indictment further alleges that the defendants paid the workers low wages and required them to remain under the defendants’ control, without pay, in overcrowded, substandard conditions, to serve as a cheap, compliant, and readily available labor pool when there was insufficient work.
The defendants maintained control over the Thai nationals by confiscating their passports, threatening them with deportation, and threatening to send them back to Thailand with no way to repay their debts, knowing they feared that they and their families would face serious economic harm as a result of the recruitment debts secured by their property.
If convicted, Orian faces a maximum sentence of 135 years; Tubchumpol a maximum sentence of 115 years; Wongsesanit a maximum sentence of 35 years; Germann a maximum sentence of 30 years; Chunharutai a maximum sentence of 65 years; Schwartz a maximum of 10 years; and Knoller a maximum of five years. Sinchai, who was recently charged and convicted in Thailand with recruitment fraud, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison if convicted in the United States.
The case is being investigated by the Honolulu Division of the FBI, with the assistance of the FBI’s Los Angeles, Norfolk, and Buffalo Divisions; the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Offices in Los Angeles, Provo, Utah and Washington State; and the U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service, Los Angeles Field Office. The principal non-governmental organizations assisting the victims are the Thai Community Development Center, Utah Legal Services, and Florida Rural Legal Services.
This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Susan French and Kevonne Small, of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and Assistant United States Attorney Susan Cushman of the District of Hawaii.
The charges in the 10-count superseding indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.