Ahh, October—time for pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin mochi and Hawai‘i-grown pumpkins. Aloun Farms, which celebrates its 10th year of educational tours this year, hosts an average of 15,000 students at its annual pumpkin patch. Event coordinator Michael Moefu says the student tours run Tuesdays through Fridays. “They learn a little bit more about agriculture, not just pumpkins,” he says. “Corn, sunflowers, beans and over a dozen different varieties of pumpkins.”
This is also the 14th annual Pumpkin Festival at Aloun in Kapolei, which is open to the public the last three weekends of October from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. 91-1440 Farrington Highway, Kapolei, 677-9516, alounfarms.com.
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 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.
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.
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.
Hawaii is cracking down on prostitution and worker exploitation by passing new laws amid the nation’s largest-ever human trafficking case.
Hawaii was one of only four states lacking a labor trafficking law or a sex trafficking law before Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the measures this week, according to the Polaris Project, a Washington-based advocacy group against human trafficking.
The new laws are being enacted as the federal government is already prosecuting labor recruiting company Global Horizons on accusations of oppressing hundreds of Thai laborers by bringing them to farms in the U.S., failing to pay them for work performed, putting them into debt, confiscating their passports and threatening to deport them. A separate federal case involves similar allegations against Hawaii’s second-largest farm, Aloun Farms.
The laws also empower police to more strongly combat prostitution when world leaders from 21 countries meet in Honolulu in November for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
After years of opposing a human trafficking law, law enforcement joined forces with advocates to get a proposal approved by the Legislature and governor.
Federal prosecutors want to introduce new allegations during the trial for the owners of Aloun Farms that they had a history of subjecting impoverished Thai agricultural laborers to oppressive working and living conditions.
The government says in court documents that Aloun Farms owners Alec and Mike Sou, awaiting trial in federal court on forced labor and related charges, had abused impoverished Thai workers before.
The Sou brothers are scheduled to stand trial next month on charges in connection with the importation of 44 farm laborers from Thailand to work on their farm in 2004. They are accused of importing the workers under false pretenses, having their passports confiscated when they arrived, underpaying them, restricting their movements and forcing them to live in crowded or substandard housing.
The federal prosecutor says in court documents the Sous subjected other Thai farm laborers to the same conditions in 2003 when they hired the workers from Los Angeles-based labor contracting company Global Horizons Manpower Inc.
LOS ANGELES >> An administrative law judge has ordered a Los Angeles-area temporary workforce provider to pay more than $340,000 for failing to properly pay Thai farmworkers in Hawaii and for violating their rights.
The U.S. Department of Labor announced the ruling against Global Horizons Inc., which is also under scrutiny for alleged human-trafficking violations.
The Labor Department said today that Administrative Law Judge William Dorsey ordered the company to pay $153,000 in back wages to 88 temporary farmworkers and $194,000 in fines.
The department says Global Horizons failed to pay employees for all their work and retaliated against those who complained, among other violations.
The company stopped doing business in 2006.
Company President Mordechai Orian denies the allegations and says he has appealed. He is facing criminal prosecution in Hawaii.
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.