In what federal officials described as the largest human-trafficking
case ever brought by the government, Mordechai Orian, president and
chief operating officer of Global Horizons, was indicted by the U.S.
Department of Justice for "engaging in a conspiracy to commit
forced labor and document servitude."
The alleged victims of the
Los Angeles-based labor recruiter are some 400 Thai citizens who were
brought to work on farms in the U.S. between May 2004 through
September 2005. They were hired under H-2A visas which allow farm
workers into the country for seasonal work.
In late 2006, after CorpWatch published an
article and a cartoon
about the recruitment and abuse of Thai farm workers, Orian sued the
non-profit. Orian stated that our reporter,
Kari Lydersen was "part of (a) campaign against the H-2A program
and [was trying] to protect illegal immigrant and the legal groups who
stand to profit from the representation of illegal aliens."
CorpWatch refused to retract the article or the cartoon but the two
parties came to an out-of-court settlement in April 2007 to correct a
few disputed facts in the story. No money was paid by either
Orian, himself an immigrant from Israel, was formally charged on
September 1st along with five others -- Pranee Tubchumpol, Shane
Germann and Sam Wongsesanit of Global Horizons Manpower Inc. as well
as Thai labor recruiters Ratawan Chunharutai and Podjanee Sinchai.
Federal agents raided Orian's Malibu home at dawn the next day only to
discover that he was in Texas.
On September 2nd, Orian "deceived and evaded federal FBI agents for
approximately 24 hours by providing sporadic, misleading, and
conflicting information concerning his location, willingness to
surrender in Dallas, and failing to report," government lawyers
stated in documents filed with the federal court. They further charged
that Orian "flew to Hawaii on another flight to avoid contact
with federal agents at the airport."
Today Orian is sitting in a Honolulu jail awaiting Judge Leslie
Kobayashi's decision on a government request to deny Orian's release
on $1 million bail secured on his exclusive West Moonshadows Drive
home in Malibu. Susan Cushman, assistant U.S. Attorney for Hawaii, has
filed documents stating that Orian is a flight risk, noting that he
had used 26 different aliases and four different Social Security
numbers in the past. "The Pretrial Services' report found the
defendant posed a risk of danger to the community because of the
nature of the offense and similar allegations in Israel and Canada,"
Multiple Court Cases
Cushman's request to keep Orian locked up until trial also
described numerous violations of the law, according to a filing
delivered to the Honolulu court on September 9.
The documents show that in 2000, Orian attempted to enter the U.S.
from Mexico even though his visa had been revoked "based on false
representations the Defendant made about his employment in Israel and
the United States."
Cushman provided the court with a copy of a 2003 report, "Migrant
Workers in Israel -- A Contemporary Form of Slavery," published
the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network and the International
Federation for Human Rights. It states that Orian took $3,000 from
each of 19 Chinese workers for the "privilege" of working in
Israel for two years.
"By the end of February Mr. Orian owed each of the workers
between 2-3 months wages," the report concluded. "Instead of
paying the workers, he sent ten armed guards to surprise the workers
in their sleep, beat them and drive them to the airport, where they
were forcibly deported."
In another document filed by Cushman, U.S. Department of Labor Judge
William Dorsey concluded on November 30, 2006, that Global Horizons
Manpower, Inc. had "willfully and fraudulently represented it had
contracts with Taft Farms" [in Bakersfield, California] to obtain
visas for more than 200 workers between August 1, 2003 and April 30,
2004 under the H-2A program. The non-immigrant visas, granted to more
than 50,000 temporary farm laborers in 2007, are a mainstay -- along
with undocumented labor -- of the U.S. agricultural system.
Dorsey found that the company had neither a
contract nor jobs for the 200 workers. Unable to find them paid
employment, Global Horizons fired the workers "for poor
performance, when in fact, they were terminated for lack of work,"
Dorsey wrote in his final decision. He ordered that Orian be barred
for three years from bringing guest workers into the U.S.
On September 7, 2007, Philipda Modrakee, a U.S. Department of Labor
investigator, filed a report on 156 Global Horizons workers employed
at the Maui Pineapple Farm in Hawaii. Modrakee estimated that Global
Horizons owed $459,256 in fines for failure to pay wages at the
minimum rate and on time, for illegally deducting money from the
workers' pay checks for housing, and for failing to provide them with
transportation to their work sites.
Immigration attorney Melissa Vincenty of Honolulu, who is representing
80 clients with claims against Global Horizon, told the Maui
News last week that the company had confiscated the workers'
passports and visas. "It is called document servitude,"
Vincenty told the newspaper, noting that passports are required for
travel between the islands that make up the state of Hawaii.
Orian bought a twin-engine aircraft for inter-island transport of the
Thai workers, thereby avoiding the necessity of presenting
identification/passport to government officials, according to the
documents filed before the court. Cushman noted that the airplane was
recently seized as evidence.
Orian has drawn legal scrutiny in other states and nations. On
July 2, 2008, Judge James Hutton in the Eastern District Court,
ordered Orian to appear before his court in Spokane, Washington to
explain why Global Horizons had failed to pay multiple court fines
running into thousands of dollars. At the hearing Orian testified that
the company was insolvent, although the court found that seven
employees, including Orian, were still being paid salaries.
On July 29, 2009, immigration judge Christine Bither ordered Orian,
who is an Israeli citizen, deported from the U.S. for falsely claiming
five times to be a U.S. citizen when signing documents to hire farm
workers under the H-2A visa program. Finally, Cushman provided the court with a
March 26, 2010 ruling by Judge John Madden IV in Denver, Colorado,
ordering Global Horizons to pay a Nepali man named Rajan Gurung
$108,257 to settle a dispute over the hiring of 24 workers from Nepal.
In 2008, Gurung said he paid Global Horizons Canada $72,000 to arrange
work visas for the 24 people in Canada, but that the company was
unable to produce any evidence that it had actually applied for the
Instead, Orian appeared before the court and claimed that he had not
applied for the visas because all the workers had the same last name,
Gurung, which indicated a potential violation of Canadian immigration
law that does not allow family members to be employed in temporary
jobs. (Gurung is one of the most common family names in Nepal.) Madden
found Orian's claim to be without merit and ordered him to repay
Gurung with interest as well as pay his court costs.
Responding to the Government
It was against this history of questionable dealings that Orian's
attorney Mark Werksman, asked for his client to be released on bail.
Werksman's September 10 filing presented a series of arguments and
documents to prove that his client was not a flight risk.
For example, Werksman says that the 2009 deportation order was being
appealed and that his client, "a busy business owner" had
inadvertently checked boxes claiming to be a citizen. Werksman also
noted that since Orian was "vigorously" contesting the
deportation order, he was not a flight risk. Rather, he had a
"desperate yearning to remain in the United
The 26 alleged aliases (such as O'Ryan and Moty) were
"insignificant misspellings or typographical errors,"
"The government appears to be asking the court to detain
Mr. Orian because it thinks he is a bad employer and a chronic
lawbreaker and deserves to be punished," wrote Werksman.
"There is no evidence of this outside of the
government's cherry-picked examples of adverse administrative
rulings." And the government's immigration and labor
bureaucracies are bound to have "disagreements, legal snafus and
Orian never intended to deceive the FBI, but simply took a
lower-priced flight to Hawaii Werksman says. "What Mr. Orian did
not know, is that the FBI intended to make a high-profile arrest
at the airport," he charges in the court documents.
This claim is backed up by Kara Lujan, a public relations executive
who represents musicians including soul artist Kelly Price and the
rhythm & blues band "Heads of State" who told CorpWatch that she negotiated
Orian's "surrender with the FBI agent Tom Simon."
"He is not a flight risk, he is not a danger to society,"
Lujan told Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. "He pleaded not
guilty on Friday, denying the charges. He never threatened Thai
workers, never took their passports, and there is no evidence of
Werksman also submitted documents from Orian's
friends. Lisa Machenberg, who lists herself as a certified
hypotherapist, says that her son went to the same pre-school as
Orian's son Dillon, and that she believes that Orian is a "fair
and good man."
Thai Workers Stand Up
But while Cushman and Werksman were filing competing documents in
Honolulu, some of Orian's former employees were playing out a parallel
drama in Los Angeles.
There, on September 8, in front of the Wat Thai Buddhist temple some
25 Thai farm workers lined up wearing sunglasses, baseball caps, and
traditional Thai scarves to disguise themselves for fear of
retaliation, they said. One-by-one they told media assembled at a
press conference organized by the Thai Community Development Center
about their treatment at the hands of Global Horizons.
One 42-year-old man told reporters that recruiters promised him a
fulltime job for $1,000 a month -- ten times more than he made as a
rice farmer. The recruiters told that him that Global Horizons could
find him work picking apples in Washington and pineapples in Hawaii.
Lee, a pseudonym, arrived in Seattle on July 4, 2004 to discover that
he would have to pay $18,000 to the recruiters.
"I thought I would find freedom and jobs here," Lee said at
the news conference. "I thought the United States was a civilized
nation, the highest in the world. I never imagined this kind of thing
could happen here."
Like the Thai workers that CorpWatch reported on in our 2006 article
who were housed in trailers and crowded motel rooms, Lee says he was
housed in a wooden shack. Lee says he was also threatened with
violence and deportation if he tried to escape or to speak to any
outsiders. In September 2005, Lee says he escaped one night by running
through pineapple fields.
Lee's story was confirmed by Chanchanit Martorell, Executive Director
of the Thai Community Development Center. Martorell and her staff say
they have interviewed more than 200 farmworkers and filed civil
charges against Global Horizons. She noted that some of the farm
workers were so badly treated that they had to survive on eating
leaves from plants or fish they caught in a nearby river.
Damrong Kraikruan, the consul general of Thailand in Los Angeles, told
the Los Angeles Times newspaper that Thailand had revoked
Global Horizons' license to work there in 2005, and convicted one of
the firm's Thai associates of operating a job procurement business
without a license.
Jorge Guzman, of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also appeared
at the Thai Community Development Center news conference to praise the
organization for raising awareness about the problem. "Awareness
is crucial to making this shameful practice a thing of the past,"
Guzman said, urging the public to report any suspicions about human
The FBI says it is taking the Global Horizons
case very seriously. "In the old days, they used to keep slaves
in their place with whips and chains," FBI Special Agent Tom
Simon told the Beverly Hills Courier. "Today, it is done
with economic threats and intimidation."
* This article was produced in partnership with Inter Press Service
News Agency. Pratap Chatterjee may be reached at “firstname.lastname@example.org.”