Owners of Aloun Farms ask judge to throw out forced labor... - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Owners of Aloun Farms ask judge to throw out forced labor charges

Mike Sou (in Aloha shirt) Mike Sou (in Aloha shirt)
Thomas Otake Thomas Otake
Alec Sou (in Aloha shirt) Alec Sou (in Aloha shirt)
Tom Bienert Tom Bienert

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two days before the start of jury selection in their high-profile human trafficking case, the owners of Aloun Farms have asked a federal judge to dismiss more than half a dozen charges against them.

It's been quite a roller coaster ride for the parties in the case. Defendants Alec and Mike Sou originally pleaded guilty and proceeded to sentencing. But it was back to square one after US District Judge Susan Mollway rejected their plea deal with prosecutors.

The brothers now maintain they didn't commit a crime at all.

After a two-year legal journey filled with twists and turns, the owners of Aloun Farms say they're eager to begin jury selection in their forced labor case this week.

"On behalf of my client, Mike Sou, he is very eager and very happy that the trial is here," Thomas Otake, defense attorney, said. "These false allegations have been devastating to his business and to himself personally."

...but not so eager that they wouldn't make a last-ditch effort to get eight charges dismissed.

"There is no question that our clients did not physically hurt anybody, did not threaten to physically hurt anyone," Tom Bienert, Alec Sou's attorney, said. "There is no physical coercion of any type."

More than 40 farmers from Thailand each reportedly paid recruiters about $20,000 for the chance to work at Aloun and earn $9.42 an hour.

But the Sous are accused of underpaying them and forcing many of them to live in modified storage containers, and then threatening deportation and the loss of their work visas if they didn't follow the rules.

"This case is kind of an interesting one because it's about whether you can extend this law and call something forced labor when at most what you did was tell people what is the natural consequence of them not doing their job," Bienert said.

The forced labor statute at the time of the alleged offenses in 2004 to 2005 made it a crime to compel someone to work under the threat of "serious harm." Federal prosecutors say serious harm can be financial, not just physical, and that the threat of deportation created fear among the workers that their families back in Thailand would be left homeless and destitute.

"What is serious harm?" Bienert asked. "In this day and age in particular, all of us would be seriously harmed if we lose our job."

"If the government is allowed to apply this forced labor statute in a way that they're attempting to do so, I think a lot of employers need to be worried," Otake said.

In 2008, a few years after the alleged offenses, Congress amended the forced labor statute to include financial harm.

Prosecutors did not stop to speak with reporters Monday.

Mollway has yet to rule on the defense's motion to dismiss the charges.

 

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

  • Hawaii News Now headlinesNewsMore>>

  • UN: Excessive drinking killed over 3 million people in 2016

    UN: Excessive drinking killed over 3 million people in 2016

    Saturday, September 22 2018 2:20 PM EDT2018-09-22 18:20:51 GMT
    Monday, September 24 2018 8:02 PM EDT2018-09-25 00:02:14 GMT
    (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, FILE). FILE- In this Nov. 27, 2012 file photo, a customer checks bottles of imported wine at a supermarket in Beijing. The World Health Organization said in a report published Friday Sept. 21, 2018,  that drinking too much ...(AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, FILE). FILE- In this Nov. 27, 2012 file photo, a customer checks bottles of imported wine at a supermarket in Beijing. The World Health Organization said in a report published Friday Sept. 21, 2018, that drinking too much ...
    The World Health Organization says that drinking too much alcohol killed more than 3 million people in 2016, mostly men.More >>
    The World Health Organization says that drinking too much alcohol killed more than 3 million people in 2016, mostly men.More >>
  • Hawaii 'worst state' for teachers, and not just because of low pay

    Hawaii 'worst state' for teachers, and not just because of low pay

    Monday, September 24 2018 8:01 PM EDT2018-09-25 00:01:05 GMT
    Some 12,000 teachers are employed in Hawaii's public schools. (Image: Hawaii News Now/File)Some 12,000 teachers are employed in Hawaii's public schools. (Image: Hawaii News Now/File)

    Hawaii is the worst state in the nation for teachers. 

    More >>

    Hawaii is the worst state in the nation for teachers. 

    More >>
  • Bye bye bugs? Scientists fear non-pest insects are declining

    Bye bye bugs? Scientists fear non-pest insects are declining

    Thursday, September 20 2018 1:19 AM EDT2018-09-20 05:19:36 GMT
    Monday, September 24 2018 7:55 PM EDT2018-09-24 23:55:46 GMT
    (AP Photo/Don Ryan). FILE - In this May 26, 2010 file photo, a Coccinellidae, more commonly known as a ladybug or ladybird beetle, rests on the petals of a rose in Portland, Ore. A study estimates a 14 percent decline in ladybugs in the United States a...(AP Photo/Don Ryan). FILE - In this May 26, 2010 file photo, a Coccinellidae, more commonly known as a ladybug or ladybird beetle, rests on the petals of a rose in Portland, Ore. A study estimates a 14 percent decline in ladybugs in the United States a...

    Scientists are noticing fewer and fewer moths, ladybugs, fireflies and butterflies, but they can't quite quantify what's happening to flying insects because they never measured how many bugs there used to be.

    More >>

    Scientists are noticing fewer and fewer moths, ladybugs, fireflies and butterflies, but they can't quite quantify what's happening to flying insects because they never measured how many bugs there used to be.

    More >>
Powered by Frankly