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Hawaii News

Aloun Farm owners deny threats

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Workers waited outside for trial to begin yesterday at federal court.
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Defendant Alec Sou, right, glanced back before entering court.

The sentencing hearing for the owners of Aloun Farms on forced-labor charges will continue in September because brothers Alec and Mike Sou refused to admit to committing acts to which they had pleaded guilty in January.

Alec Souphone Sou, president and general manager of the Ewa farm, is facing 46 to 57 months in prison for conspiring to commit forced labor in connection with the importation of 44 farmworkers from Thailand in 2004, according to federal sentencing guidelines.

Mike Mankone Sou, vice president and operations manager, is facing 41 to 51 months in prison for the same crime.

The sentencing guidelines are based on a number of factors, including the seriousness of the crime and a defendant’s actions and criminal history. Alec Sou has a higher prison range because he has prior DUI convictions.

The guidelines are also advisory, and U.S. Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway could sentence the brothers to prison terms outside the recommended range.

The Sous’ lawyers are asking Mollway to sentence them to probation or, in the alternative, to staggered prison terms so one brother can operate the farm while the other one serves his sentence.

The brothers and two co-conspirators are charged with signing the agricultural workers to contracts, then, when they arrived in Hawaii, paying them less than what they were promised. The government says the workers mortgaged their family homes and subsistence farms to pay recruiters $16,000 upfront for 3 1/2 -year contracts to work at Aloun Farms.

As part of their plea agreements, both brothers admitted that they, along with a recruiter in Thailand and a broker from California, told the workers after they arrived in Hawaii that their contracts were worthless. The Sous’ plea agreements also say they told the workers they would send them back to Thailand, with no opportunity to pay off their loans, if they disobeyed, failed to follow directions or tried to leave.

But yesterday Alec Sou said, "Myself and my brother never threatened any workers."

Mollway told the Sous if she is to sentence them, they need to say why they believe they are guilty. Otherwise, they should seek to withdraw their pleas.

Mike Sou’s lawyer, Eric Seitz, said the government rushed the plea agreements under threat of additional charges.

Federal prosecutor Susan French said she was ready to present a new indictment against the Sous to a grand jury last December and that it was their lawyers who sought the plea agreements to head off additional charges against their clients.


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