Three Defendants Plead Guilty in Honolulu in Connection with Human Trafficking Scheme That Exploited 600 Thai Workers
Case Marks Largest Human Trafficking Case in U.S. History
WASHINGTON – Bruce Schwartz, 53, Sam Wongsesanit, 40, and Shane Germann, 42, have pleaded guilty to human trafficking violations involving the Los Angeles based recruiting company Global Horizons, the Justice Department announced today. Schwartz pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit forced labor, and Germann and Wongsesanit pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit document servitude.
In a superseding indictment unsealed on Jan. 18, 2011, eight defendants were charged in connection with a scheme to lure approximately 600 Thai nationals to enter the United States under the federal agricultural guest worker program between 2001 and 2007. According to the indictment, the defendants conspired to coerce the agricultural labor and services of the Thai nationals by fraudulently inducing the recruits to incur substantial debts secured by the workers’ homes and family land, then confiscating the workers’ passports, and threatening to repatriate the victims to face destitution, homelessness and other serious harm if they did not remain in the defendants’ service for meager earnings.
“These defendants pleaded guilty to participating in the largest human trafficking scheme ever seen by the Department of Justice,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The department is committed to prosecuting cases of human trafficking, both large and small, in order to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our country.”
“Through successful prosecution of those who take advantage of immigrant workers, we strive to ensure that the United States continues to be a land of economic opportunity, as it has for generations of workers preceding them,” said Florence T. Nakakuni, U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii.
Schwartz, Wongsesanit and Germann each face maximum sentences of five years in prison. Another associate of the defendants, Podjanee Sinchai, was charged and convicted in Thailand with recruitment fraud and sentenced to four years in prison.
The case is being investigated by the Honolulu Division of the FBI, with the assistance of the Los Angeles Division of the FBI; the Norfolk, Va., Division of the FBI; the Buffalo, N.Y., Division of the FBI; the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement state offices in Los Angeles, Provo, Utah, and Washington; and the U.S. Department of State, Office of Diplomatic Security Field Office in Los Angeles. The victims are receiving assistance from the Thai Community Development Center in Los Angeles; Utah Legal Services in Salt Lake City; and Florida Rural Legal Services in Ft. Myers, Fla.
This case is being prosecuted by Senior Special Counsel Susan French and Trial Attorney Kevonne Small of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Cushman of District of Hawaii.