The owners of Hawaii’s second-largest farm are looking to get back $192,000 from the federal court clerk in Honolulu.
The money was to have been divided among 24 Thai farm workers under a plea agreement initially accepted by Alec Sou and his brother Mike Sou of Aloun Farms.
But a federal judge rejected the deal because the Sous disputed some of the facts they had previously acknowledged in the plea agreement. They then changed their pleas to not guilty.
The human trafficking trial of the owners of Aloun Farms in Kapolei is set to begin Nov. 9. In all, they are accused of exploiting 44 imported laborers from Thailand.
By Mark Niesse
HONOLULU — Two prominent, popular brothers who operate the second-largest vegetable farm in Hawaii will be sentenced in federal court this week on human trafficking charges — they pleaded guilty — but two former state governors, community groups, fellow farmers and other supporters are trying to keep them out of prison.
The brothers were convicted of shipping 44 laborers from Thailand and forcing them to work on their farm, part of a pipeline to the United States that allegedly cornered foreign field hands into low-paying jobs with few rights.
Aloun Farms may be too important to fail in an island state that once relied on pineapples and sugar cane but grows less than 15 percent of the food it consumes, according to supporters of defendants Alec and Mike Sou.
“The incarceration of Alec and Mike Sou would threaten our food security and could endanger our future sustainability on Oahu,” wrote Kioni Dudley, president of the community group Friends of Makakilo, in a letter asking U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway for leniency. “Find some method of punishment which allows them to stay in their positions at Aloun Farms.”
The Sou brothers are asking for a light sentence with little or no jail time based in part on the idea that their farm is too valuable to the islands’ food supply to let it go untended. The plea deal they agreed to in January called for up to five years imprisonment.
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.
The guidelines are also advisory, and U.S. Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway could sentence the brothers to prison terms outside the recommended range.
Two Brothers Plead Guilty in Conspiracy to Hold Thai Workers in Forced Labor in Hawaii
WASHINGTON—Defendants Alec Sou and Mike Sou, co-owners of Aloun Farm, pleaded guilty on Jan.13, 2010, in federal district court in Honolulu, to conspiring to commit forced labor. The two defendants, who are brothers, each face up to five years in prison for their respective roles in a labor trafficking scheme that held Thai agricultural workers in service at Aloun Farm through a scheme of debts, threats, and restraint.
During their respective plea hearings, the defendants acknowledged that they conspired with one another and with others to hold 44 Thai men in forced labor on a farm operated by the defendants, using a scheme of physical restraint and threats of serious harm to intimidate the workers and hold them in fear of attempting to leave the defendants’ service.
Farm owners plead guilty to forced labor charges
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 14, 2010
Forty-four agricultural workers from Thailand were forced to work on Aloun Farm for wages lower than what they were promised and required by law, said Kevonne Small, trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
Some were forced to live in a storage container on the farm, and none could leave because the farm owners kept their passports, Small said.
Aloun Farm owners Alec and Mike Sou pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to conspiring to commit forced labor in connection with the importation of the workers in 2004.
Each faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when they are sentenced in June. However, the government will ask the court for a lighter sentence because they have accepted responsibility for their actions, according to their plea agreements. The government also promises to seek further sentence reductions based on the value of the brothers’ cooperation in the ongoing federal investigation into the recruitment and employment of Thai agricultural workers.
Something rotten is happening in pumpkin patches across the country, but that shouldn’t affect the supply of the orange orbs here this Halloween season.
Bad weather and a fungus on the Mainland have devastated pumpkin crops in the East and much of the Midwest. Pumpkin production is expected to be down between 65 percent and 75 percent, while prices are projected to be high.
But in Hawai’i, where about 70 percent of the pumpkins sold are grown at Aloun Farms in Kapolei, there should be enough to go around, and prices will be about the same as last year.
As recently as four years ago, 100 percent of the pumpkins sold in the Islands were brought in from the Mainland. Thanks to Aloun Farms, that’s down to 30 percent.
Aloun Farms anticipated a greater demand for pumpkins this year and planted 110 acres, compared with 90 acres last year.
Aloun Farms’ Alec Sou said his crop was planted after the March and April storms that damaged many crops; still, crop yield per acre is down this year.