A key prosecution witness began testifying today in the federal trial of brothers Alec and Mike Sou on charges of illegally bringing in 44 Thai nationals to work at the Sous’ Aloun Farms under forced labor conditions.
Matee 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 witness will resume testifying after the lunch recess and is expected to be on the stand the rest of the day.