Aloun Farm operators Alec and Mike Sou are facing additional charges in connection with their importation in 2004 of 44 Thai nationals to work on their Ewa farm.
A federal grand jury returned a new indictment against them Wednesday, charging the brothers with five acts of forced labor for allegedly threatening workers with harm if they did not work. The indictment also includes two counts of document servitude for allegedly confiscating workers’ passports so they could not leave, and two counts of harboring for financial gain for allegedly hiding workers from authorities after their visas had expired so they could continue to work on the farm.
The brothers were scheduled to answer to the new charges in U.S. District Court this afternoon. Attorneys for the Sous said they would plead not guilty today to all counts.
"They maintain their innocence," said Eric Seitz, an attorney for Alec Sou, the farm’s president and general manager.
The brothers likely will go to trial instead of seeking another plea deal, said Howard Luke, an attorney for Mike Sou, the farm’s vice president and operations manager.
The indictment also charges the Sous with obstruction for presenting in court this summer a video about their farm operation containing alleged false and misleading representations. The brothers were already facing conspiracy charges to commit forced labor, document servitude and visa fraud.
The Sous initially reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, but then disputed some of the facts they had earlier acknowledged. Chief U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway rejected the deal last month, and the Sous instead pleaded not guilty. They were scheduled to stand trial next month, but the court will likely set a new trial date because of the additional charges.
The Sous imported the Thai workers under the U.S. Labor Department’s guest worker program for temporary and seasonal agriculture workers.
The workers said they were forced to mortgage their homes and subsistence lands to pay recruitment fees upward of $16,000 each for three-year contracts to work on Aloun Farm. When they arrived in Hawaii, the workers allege, they were paid less than what they were promised and told they could return to Thailand instead with no ability to pay off their loans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.