HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Aloun Farms owners Mike and Alec Sou are accused of forcing 44 Thai laborers to work on their farm in 2004.
In opening arguments, U.S. Justice Department attorney Kevonne Small told the jury the Sous confiscated passports, paid less than promised, and controlled the workers through intimidation.
"Aloun Farms put on a friendly face," she said. "This was a mask to hide death threats, deception and fear."
She said the workers were housed in poor conditions and given limited amounts of food.
But the Sous' attorneys said the brothers cared for the workers and paid them well.
Attorney Thomas Otake said they lived in a nice two-story home in Waianae and in comfortable trailers on the farm.
"During the five months they were at Aloun Farms, not a single complaint was raised," he said.
But Small said the Sous kept the workers from leaving the Waianae property on their days off.
She said they were told, "Don't go outside. The locals will harm you."
Defense Attorney Tom Bienert countered that the workers "had their passports and could do what they wanted when they wanted."
"Not a single worker was asked to do something that the Sous hadn't done themselves," he said.
More than 100 witnesses are slated to testify. The case will take weeks to complete.
If convicted of forced labor the Sous could get up to 20 years in prison without parole.