In what federal officials described as the largest human-trafficking case ever brought by the government, Mordechai Orian, president and chief operating officer of Global Horizons, was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for "engaging in a conspiracy to commit forced labor and document servitude."
The alleged victims of the Los Angeles-based labor recruiter are some 400 Thai citizens who were brought to work on farms in the U.S. between May 2004 through September 2005. They were hired under H-2A visas which allow farm workers into the country for seasonal work.
In late 2006, after CorpWatch published an article and a cartoon about the recruitment and abuse of Thai farm workers, Orian sued the non-profit. Orian stated that our reporter, Kari Lydersen was "part of (a) campaign against the H-2A program and [was trying] to protect illegal immigrant and the legal groups who stand to profit from the representation of illegal aliens." CorpWatch refused to retract the article or the cartoon but the two parties came to an out-of-court settlement in April 2007 to correct a few disputed facts in the story. No money was paid by either side.
Orian, himself an immigrant from Israel, was formally charged on September 1st along with five others — Pranee Tubchumpol, Shane Germann and Sam Wongsesanit of Global Horizons Manpower Inc. as well as Thai labor recruiters Ratawan Chunharutai and Podjanee Sinchai. Federal agents raided Orian's Malibu home at dawn the next day only to discover that he was in Texas.
On September 2nd, Orian "deceived and evaded federal FBI agents for approximately 24 hours by providing sporadic, misleading, and conflicting information concerning his location, willingness to surrender in Dallas, and failing to report," government lawyers stated in documents filed with the federal court. They further charged that Orian "flew to Hawaii on another flight to avoid contact with federal agents at the airport."
Today Orian is sitting in a Honolulu jail awaiting Judge Leslie Kobayashi's decision on a government request to deny Orian's release on $1 million bail secured on his exclusive West Moonshadows Drive home in Malibu. Susan Cushman, assistant U.S. Attorney for Hawaii, has filed documents stating that Orian is a flight risk, noting that he had used 26 different aliases and four different Social Security numbers in the past. "The Pretrial Services' report found the defendant posed a risk of danger to the community because of the nature of the offense and similar allegations in Israel and Canada," wrote Cushman.
Multiple Court Cases
Cushman's request to keep Orian locked up until trial also described numerous violations of the law, according to a filing delivered to the Honolulu court on September 9.
The documents show that in 2000, Orian attempted to enter the U.S. from Mexico even though his visa had been revoked "based on false representations the Defendant made about his employment in Israel and the United States."
Cushman provided the court with a copy of a 2003 report, "Migrant Workers in Israel — A Contemporary Form of Slavery," published the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network and the International Federation for Human Rights. It states that Orian took $3,000 from each of 19 Chinese workers for the "privilege" of working in Israel for two years.
"By the end of February Mr. Orian owed each of the workers between 2-3 months wages," the report concluded. "Instead of paying the workers, he sent ten armed guards to surprise the workers in their sleep, beat them and drive them to the airport, where they were forcibly deported."
In another document filed by Cushman, U.S. Department of Labor Judge William Dorsey concluded on November 30, 2006, that Global Horizons Manpower, Inc. had "willfully and fraudulently represented it had contracts with Taft Farms" [in Bakersfield, California] to obtain visas for more than 200 workers between August 1, 2003 and April 30, 2004 under the H-2A program. The non-immigrant visas, granted to more than 50,000 temporary farm laborers in 2007, are a mainstay — along with undocumented labor — of the U.S. agricultural system.
Dorsey found that the company had neither a contract nor jobs for the 200 workers. Unable to find them paid employment, Global Horizons fired the workers "for poor performance, when in fact, they were terminated for lack of work," Dorsey wrote in his final decision. He ordered that Orian be barred for three years from bringing guest workers into the U.S.
On September 7, 2007, Philipda Modrakee, a U.S. Department of Labor investigator, filed a report on 156 Global Horizons workers employed at the Maui Pineapple Farm in Hawaii. Modrakee estimated that Global Horizons owed $459,256 in fines for failure to pay wages at the minimum rate and on time, for illegally deducting money from the workers' pay checks for housing, and for failing to provide them with transportation to their work sites.
Immigration attorney Melissa Vincenty of Honolulu, who is representing 80 clients with claims against Global Horizon, told the Maui News last week that the company had confiscated the workers' passports and visas. "It is called document servitude," Vincenty told the newspaper, noting that passports are required for travel between the islands that make up the state of Hawaii.
Orian bought a twin-engine aircraft for inter-island transport of the Thai workers, thereby avoiding the necessity of presenting identification/passport to government officials, according to the documents filed before the court. Cushman noted that the airplane was recently seized as evidence.
Orian has drawn legal scrutiny in other states and nations. On July 2, 2008, Judge James Hutton in the Eastern District Court, ordered Orian to appear before his court in Spokane, Washington to explain why Global Horizons had failed to pay multiple court fines running into thousands of dollars. At the hearing Orian testified that the company was insolvent, although the court found that seven employees, including Orian, were still being paid salaries.
On July 29, 2009, immigration judge Christine Bither ordered Orian, who is an Israeli citizen, deported from the U.S. for falsely claiming five times to be a U.S. citizen when signing documents to hire farm workers under the H-2A visa program. Finally, Cushman provided the court with a March 26, 2010 ruling by Judge John Madden IV in Denver, Colorado, ordering Global Horizons to pay a Nepali man named Rajan Gurung $108,257 to settle a dispute over the hiring of 24 workers from Nepal. In 2008, Gurung said he paid Global Horizons Canada $72,000 to arrange work visas for the 24 people in Canada, but that the company was unable to produce any evidence that it had actually applied for the visas.
Instead, Orian appeared before the court and claimed that he had not applied for the visas because all the workers had the same last name, Gurung, which indicated a potential violation of Canadian immigration law that does not allow family members to be employed in temporary jobs. (Gurung is one of the most common family names in Nepal.) Madden found Orian's claim to be without merit and ordered him to repay Gurung with interest as well as pay his court costs.
Responding to the Government
It was against this history of questionable dealings that Orian's attorney Mark Werksman, asked for his client to be released on bail. Werksman's September 10 filing presented a series of arguments and documents to prove that his client was not a flight risk.
For example, Werksman says that the 2009 deportation order was being appealed and that his client, "a busy business owner" had inadvertently checked boxes claiming to be a citizen. Werksman also noted that since Orian was "vigorously" contesting the deportation order, he was not a flight risk. Rather, he had a "desperate yearning to remain in the United States."
The 26 alleged aliases (such as O'Ryan and Moty) were "insignificant misspellings or typographical errors," Werksman said,
"The government appears to be asking the court to detain Mr. Orian because it thinks he is a bad employer and a chronic lawbreaker and deserves to be punished," wrote Werksman. "There is no evidence of this outside of the government's cherry-picked examples of adverse administrative rulings." And the government's immigration and labor bureaucracies are bound to have "disagreements, legal snafus and paperwork hassles."
Orian never intended to deceive the FBI, but simply took a lower-priced flight to Hawaii Werksman says. "What Mr. Orian did not know, is that the FBI intended to make a high-profile arrest at the airport," he charges in the court documents.
This claim is backed up by Kara Lujan, a public relations executive who represents musicians including soul artist Kelly Price and the rhythm & blues band "Heads of State" who told CorpWatch that she negotiated Orian's "surrender with the FBI agent Tom Simon."
"He is not a flight risk, he is not a danger to society," Lujan told Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. "He pleaded not guilty on Friday, denying the charges. He never threatened Thai workers, never took their passports, and there is no evidence of that."
Werksman also submitted documents from Orian's friends. Lisa Machenberg, who lists herself as a certified hypotherapist, says that her son went to the same pre-school as Orian's son Dillon, and that she believes that Orian is a "fair and good man."
Thai Workers Stand Up
But while Cushman and Werksman were filing competing documents in Honolulu, some of Orian's former employees were playing out a parallel drama in Los Angeles.
There, on September 8, in front of the Wat Thai Buddhist temple some 25 Thai farm workers lined up wearing sunglasses, baseball caps, and traditional Thai scarves to disguise themselves for fear of retaliation, they said. One-by-one they told media assembled at a press conference organized by the Thai Community Development Center about their treatment at the hands of Global Horizons.
One 42-year-old man told reporters that recruiters promised him a fulltime job for $1,000 a month — ten times more than he made as a rice farmer. The recruiters told that him that Global Horizons could find him work picking apples in Washington and pineapples in Hawaii. Lee, a pseudonym, arrived in Seattle on July 4, 2004 to discover that he would have to pay $18,000 to the recruiters.
"I thought I would find freedom and jobs here," Lee said at the news conference. "I thought the United States was a civilized nation, the highest in the world. I never imagined this kind of thing could happen here."
Like the Thai workers that CorpWatch reported on in our 2006 article who were housed in trailers and crowded motel rooms, Lee says he was housed in a wooden shack. Lee says he was also threatened with violence and deportation if he tried to escape or to speak to any outsiders. In September 2005, Lee says he escaped one night by running through pineapple fields.
Lee's story was confirmed by Chanchanit Martorell, Executive Director of the Thai Community Development Center. Martorell and her staff say they have interviewed more than 200 farmworkers and filed civil charges against Global Horizons. She noted that some of the farm workers were so badly treated that they had to survive on eating leaves from plants or fish they caught in a nearby river.
Damrong Kraikruan, the consul general of Thailand in Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times newspaper that Thailand had revoked Global Horizons' license to work there in 2005, and convicted one of the firm's Thai associates of operating a job procurement business without a license.
Jorge Guzman, of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also appeared at the Thai Community Development Center news conference to praise the organization for raising awareness about the problem. "Awareness is crucial to making this shameful practice a thing of the past," Guzman said, urging the public to report any suspicions about human trafficking.
The FBI says it is taking the Global Horizons case very seriously. "In the old days, they used to keep slaves in their place with whips and chains," FBI Special Agent Tom Simon told the Beverly Hills Courier. "Today, it is done with economic threats and intimidation."
* This article was produced in partnership with Inter Press Service News Agency. Pratap Chatterjee may be reached at “[email protected].”