Two former governors and community leaders have submitted letters to a federal judge in support of two brothers facing sentencing today for employing Thai immigrants under forced labor conditions in 2004 and 2005 at the well-known Aloun Farms.
John Waihee and Ben Cayetano, former Land Board Chairman William Paty, Hawaii Foodbank President Richard Grimm and dozens of others sent letters to U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway on behalf of Alec and Mike Sou, who hope to avoid a prison term.
Aloun Farms, a major agricultural business in the state, produces Asian vegetables and other crops on about 3,000 acres in the Kapolei area.
Alec Sou, president and general manager, and Mike Sou, vice president and operations manager, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge after they helped bring in 44 laborers from Thailand in 2003. They admitted they told workers they would be sent back to Thailand if they were disobedient or if they tried to leave.
Federal prosecutors and lawyers for 22 of the workers contend that the immigrants were mistreated and forced to lived in substandard conditions, but the Sous’ lawyers and supporters say the brothers are being unfairly characterized and that their farm operation will suffer if they are sent to prison.
The charge carries a prison term of up to five years.
Waihee and Cayetano both said they did not know the facts of the criminal case, but Waihee said the Sou family helped the state by transforming the Ewa sugar fields into diversified farming. The family also has been active in serving the community, Waihee said. He urged Mollway to give Alec Sou probation.
Cayetano and his wife, Vicky, wrote that Alec Sou’s rise as an immigrant from Thailand to establish the state’s largest and most successful agribusiness is a "remarkable American success story." The Cayetanos said they have known Sou to be a person of "strong character and integrity."
Paty wrote that Mike Sou would not "condone mistreating of his workers in any way."
Grimm said Aloun Farms has been a "major partner" with the food bank in fighting hunger.
In an e-mail dated last Monday sent to scores of business and community leaders, Alec Sou asked them to show up in court, saying, "All we are asking for is a fair outcome."
"It has been stated by our attorneys that the judge commented positively about the support, and they believe that your letters and personal support will help the outcome of our case," he said.
The Sous’ supporters packed the federal courtroom last month at a sentencing hearing, which will resume this afternoon.