The Israeli head of a labor recruiting company accused of exploiting 400 workers from Thailand and forcing them to work on U.S. farms pleaded not guilty Friday, in part of what the Federal Bureau of Investigation calls the largest human-trafficking case U.S. history. Los Angeles-based Global Horizons Manpower CEO Mordechai Orian, 45, surrendered to federal authorities in Honolulu earlier Friday, a day after the FBI had tried to arrest him at his Southern California home but found he wasn't there.
Although the FBI had been investigating Global Horizons for a number of years, when an arrest warrant was served on Orian, it appeared to come as a surprise. Although he was on a business trip to Texas when federal agents descended on his Malibu home, his wife said they handcuffed her and by her account acted aggressively without any justification. Orian denies all the allegations against him, and expressed hope that he would be released on bond by Wednesday, despite a prosecution request that he be held until the end of legal proceedings.
On Thursday, Orian's public relations adviser, Kara Lujan, was asked by her client to conduct negotiations with the FBI for his surrender. She said Federal agents agreed to a surrender in Hawaii on the condition that they would be shown an airplane ticket to the state. She said he landed in Honolulu and took a taxi to his lawyer's office, where FBI representatives were waiting, as agreed. Lujan said Global Horizons has not been in business for four years and that Orian was working with other companies.
Three of his employees and two Thailand-based recruiters also were charged in an indictment announced Thursday. Orian appeared in Honolulu federal court with his ankles chained. He was represented by a court-appointed attorney based on his contention that he couldn't afford one himself. He faces a maximum sentence of 70 years imprisonment. He was ordered deported from the United States last year, but has remained in the country during his appeal.
U.S. Attorney Susan French called Orian's arrest a major saga because his public relations agency had told authorities varying stories that he was in Los Angeles, Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Contrary to Lujan's statement, she said they didn't know his whereabouts until he had already caught a taxi from the Honolulu airport.
Of the four U.S. defendants named in the indictment, three have been arrested and the FBI agreed to allow the fourth to appear in court for his first appearance next week. The federal government intends to work with Thai authorities to apprehend the two suspects there.
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