A federal judge granted a request by prosecutors this morning to dismiss the forced labor charges and related counts against brothers Alec and Mike Sou of Aloun Farms.
In the stunning announcement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Cushman told U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., and the local U.S. Attorneys Office were asking for the dismissal “in the interests of justice.”
Mollway granted the request to permanently dismiss the case.
“The case is closed,” she said.
Cushman said the decision to drop the case was made after discussions last night and this morning with the Justice Department’s civil rights division in Washington D.C.
“It’s the right thing to do,” U. S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni said.
The dismissal came before the start of what would have been the fourth day of a trial that was expected to span more than a month.
Asked how he felt, Alec Sou said, “Super-elated, man. It’s like 10 tons of watermelon lifted off my shoulder.”
The Sous’ lawyers were also elated.
“This confirms what we believed all along that this prosecution was baselesss and without merit,” Mike Sou’s attorney Thomas Otake said.
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.
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.
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.