A man in his 30s was taken to the hospital with serious injuries today after his arm became caught in a machine at Aloun Farms in Kapolei.
Honolulu fire Capt. Carlton Yamada said the man was almost finished with his shift when he was trying to remove debris from the bottom of an onion sorter with a conveyor belt mechanism. The man’s arm got caught and was pulled into the machine, where it became stuck between the frame and the roller system, causing deep lacerations in his arm.
An Emergency Medical Services supervisor said the man was taken to the hospital in serious condition.
Yamada said firefighters were dispatched to the farm in the 91-1400 block of Farrington Highway at 2:37 p.m. and found others had already freed the man from the machine.
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.
Opening statements could begin as early as today for the federal trial of brothers Alex and Mike Sou of Aloun Farms on charges of forced labor and related counts.
U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway told the lawyers this afternoon that a jury should be selected by lunch Thursday and they should plan on making their opening statements.
Mollway presided a day of jury selection Wednesday and will resume the selection process on Thursday morning.
The brothers are accused of threatening Thailand laborers with harm if they did not work at the Kapolei-based Aloun Farms.
The trial is expected to last several weeks.
Two brothers who run one of Hawaii’s largest vegetable farms are going to trial this week on federal charges they illegally shipped 44 workers from Thailand, housed them in dirty metal containers and forced them to work for little pay.
Alec and Mike Sou of Aloun Farms each face up to 20 years in prison without parole if found guilty after they backed out of a plea deal last September that came with a five-year maximum sentence. The trial opens with jury selection Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors claim the Sou brothers gamed the United States’ guest-worker visa system in a way that economically trapped the rural north Thailand laborers on the 3,000-acre Oahu farm, which grows a variety of foods including lettuce, apples, bananas, parsley, watermelon and pumpkin year-round in Hawaii’s mild climate.
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.
Federal authorities have filed a civil lawsuit accusing six Hawaii farms of “unlawful employment practices” in association with federally indicted farm labor contractor Global Horizons Manpower Inc.
Global Horizons’ owner and employees are already facing several forced labor criminal charges in what’s been called the most sweeping labor prosecution in U.S. history, but no farms were implicated in the crimes.
However, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges that supervisors from the six island farms and two others in Washington state were “engaged in, and more importantly knew of, or should have known that this was going on, and took no action to remedy it.”
The Hawaii farms are Captain Cook Coffee Co., Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Co. Inc., Kelena Farms Inc., Mac Farms of Hawaii LLC and Maui Pineapple Co. The lawsuits were filed Tuesday in Hawaii and Washington.
Global Horizons is also named in the lawsuit. In Washington state, the two farms charged are Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards.
Aloun Farms, named in the federal indictment against Global Horizons, was not implicated in the EEOC lawsuit. Aloun Farms owners Alec and Mike Sou still face separate federal forced labor charges in a case unrelated to Global Horizons.
The exploitation of impoverished Thai farm workers by a Los Angeles-based labor contractor went on for longer than federal prosecutors had previously disclosed and involved more workers and more growers in more states, including Del Monte and Aloun Farms on Oahu and a macadamia nut farm on the Big Island, according to a federal indictment unsealed yesterday.
The indictment, an update to one returned last September, adds more charges of forced labor and related offenses against labor contractor Global Horizons Manpower Inc. owner Mordechai Yosef Orian and five alleged co-conspirators, officers in his company and recruiters in Thailand. The new indictment adds two more Global Horizons officers as defendants.
Aloun Farms owners Alec and Mike Sou are facing separate federal forced-labor charges for actions unrelated to Global Horizons.
Last September’s indictment said Orian, 45, an Israeli national, and his co-conspirators exploited about 400 Thai workers in forced-labor conditions from May 2004 to September 2005. It named only one property where the workers were allegedly confined and forced to work, the valley isle’s now-defunct Maui Pineapple Farm.
A 70-year-old Waipahu farm worker who died when a truck backed into him at Aloun Farms last Saturday was identified by a family member as Pedro Cervantes.
The Honolulu Medical Examiner’s office said Cervantes died of multiple internal injuries from the accident.
Cervantes was hit about 1 p.m. on a dirt road across from the Waipio Costco on Ka Uka Boulevard.
“I knew him as a good person,” said Monica Cablay, 18, a distant relative of Cervantes. She said he would visit her house on special occasions and left behind children and grandchildren. “He just looked like a happy person.”
Police have opened a third-degree negligent homicide investigation. The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is investigating the death.
A federal judge has ordered the return of $196,000 the operators of Aloun Farms had previously paid as restitution for 24 Thai workers they are accused of exploiting.
Brothers Alec and Mike Sou paid the money in August after they pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit forced labor in connection with the importation of 44 farm workers from Thailand.
The money was not distributed but held by the court. It was to be distributed to up to 24 workers at $8,000 each worker. At the time the Sous agreed to pay the restitution, the government had identified 21 workers as victims of human trafficking.
The $8,000 represented up to half of the upfront money the workers paid recruiters to get the farm jobs on Aloun Farms.
The Sous withdrew their guilty pleas last month and are scheduled to go to trial next month.