KAPOLEI (HawaiiNewsNow) - "What a relief!"
Those were the first words spoken by Alec Sou at the beginning of a 40-minute press conference at Aloun Farms, which he owns with his brother Mike Sou.
It was the first time the two brothers spoke after Federal Judge Susan Oki Mollway dismissed the human trafficking case against them. The conference was followed immediately by a celebration with their employees.
The two brothers were accused of bringing 44 laborers from Thailand and forcing them to work on a Hawaii farm. The two were facing up to 20 years in prison without parole if they had been found guilty of the most serious charges.
The brothers were flanked by their attorneys -- and surrounded by virtually all of their 180 workers.
"We've never changed any of our story from day one," said Alec Sou. "We've been wanting to tell the truth and wanting to tell our story. We never mistreated anybody, period."
"What the true facts in this case show is that Alec and Mike Sou have been honorable, caring employers for many years here in Hawaii," said Tom Bienert, Alec Sou's attorney. "They treated their workers with respect. They did everything they could to follow the law. They treated their workers in the same way that they had treated themselves and lived themselves for many years."
The Sou brothers said that none of their longtime regular employees left them throughout the years that it took before the case was dismissed.
Many of those workers got the news from their supervisors in the field.
"He shouted that their case is now finished, and so we are very glad," said Lorenzo Puyaoan, who has worked at the farm for 13 years.
"The charges that I hear from the news, I believe it's not true, because when I stay here they treated us as a brother, as a member of the family," Nick Torres, a four-year employee, said.
Employees got half the day off in order to celebrate the dismissal of the case with food and refreshments, much of it donated by food suppliers and others in the produce business who supported them.
The brothers said they are looking ahead to the future and getting back to the business of running Aloun Farms.
"My favorite thing to do is farming, work on a tractor, and work with people that -- on the farm who help me manage," said Mike Sou, who let his brother and the attorneys do most of the talking.
"We don't want to hold any grudges on anyone out there. I think certainly, if anything, we need to thank those that tried to speak the truth, the few Thai workers that really -- not all of them signed on to the lies," Alec Sou said.