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Largest Ever Human Trafficking Case Prosecuted By The Justice Department

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department today announced the sentencing of the ringleader in the Department’s largest ever human trafficking prosecution. Kil Soo Lee, the former owner of an American Samoa garment factory was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in holding over 200 victims in forced servitude.

“Human trafficking is a moral evil that is nothing less than modern-day slavery,” said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. “Today’s sentencing concludes the largest human trafficking case ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice and is another example of our commitment to protect the civil rights of trafficking victims. The Department of Justice will continue to pursue and prosecute all those who attempt to profit from human suffering.”

Lee, the owner of the Daewoosa garment factory, was convicted on February 21, 2003 of numerous federal criminal violations, including involuntary servitude, extortion and money laundering. Lee was charged in 2001, in the U.S. District Court in Hawaii, with illegally confining and using as forced labor over 200 Vietnamese and Chinese garment workers.

The workers were recruited from China and from state-owned labor export companies in Vietnam. They paid fees of approximately $5,000 to $8,000 to gain employment at the Daewoosa factory and risked retaliation and punishment at home if deported back to their native lands. Lee and his henchmen preyed on this vulnerability, and subjected the laborers to poor conditions and minimal pay. In March of 1999, after months of mistreatment, the workers complained about their plight and attempted to obtain food from local residents. Lee and his henchmen retaliated, using arrests, deportations, food deprivation and brutal physical beatings to force workers to operate the Daewoosa factory. In one episode, a woman was beaten so badly that she lost an eye. This abuse continued through November of 2000.

Kil Soo Lee was the third and last individual convicted in this case. In 2002, two of Kil Soo Lee’s co-conspirators, a manager and a garment worker, pleaded guilty to trafficking charges and were sentenced to 70 months and 51 months, respectively, in January 2004.

“Motivated by greed and with no regard for human dignity, these traffickers exploited more than 200 Vietnamese and Chinese workers,” said Bradley J. Schlozman, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is firmly committed to ensuring that those who traffic in human lives are aggressively investigated, swiftly prosecuted and firmly punished. Today’s sentencing sends a clear message to those who would attempt to profit at the expense of another’s freedom.”

This case was prosecuted by attorneys from the Criminal Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and was investigated by the Honolulu regional office of the FBI. The victim witness coordinator in the U.S. Attorney’s Office also assisted with the case.

The Justice Department has increased prosecutions of human trafficking cases in recent years. Since January of 2001, the Department of Justice has opened over 400 investigations and prosecuted 215 traffickers-triple the number prosecuted over the prior four year period.