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Lead prosecuting attorney taken off Aloun Farms case

By Ken Kobayashi

LAST UPDATED: 9:53 p.m. HST, Aug 2, 2011

The forced labor trial of brothers Alex and Mike Sou of Aloun Farms came to an abrupt halt following lunch today because of a health issue involving the lead prosecuting attorney.

U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway recessed the trial until Wednesday morning.

Federal prosecutors wanted a recess until Friday to enable two senior Justice Department lawyers to come here from Washington, D.C., to help in the trial.

They would replace Susan French, a trial attorney for the Justice Department’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.

But Mollway said other attorneys on the prosecution team should continue handling the case.

The Sous' defense attorneys said the federal government's case was unraveling after French conceded she inaccurately stated that workers couldn't be charged recruiting fees under federal law.

Matee Chowsanitphon, 57, a key prosecution witness who was supposed to resume testifying after lunch, will return to the witness stand in the morning.

The Sous are accused of bringing in 44 Thai nationals to work at Aloun Farms under forced labor conditions.

Chowsanitphon, 57, a U. S. citizen for about 16 years who was born in Bangkok and is now a California resident, pleaded guilty to visa fraud in the case in 2009 as part of an agreement with the prosecution. 

He said he was sentenced to six months of house arrest and five years of probation, but no jail time.

Chowsanitphon has been described by prosecutors as the middleman between a Thai recruiter of the laborers and Aloun Farms.

He said at a dinner with the Sous and their father Aloun Sou at a small Japanese restaurant in Honolulu in 2003, the father said he was interested in the visa program enabling the workers to come to Hawaii, but didn't want to "pay so much in minimum wage."

Chowsanitphon said he told them that under the program, the workers would have to be paid $2 an hour above the minimum wage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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