Honolulu, HI – Federal immigration officials want to detain the man at the center of the largest human trafficking case in U.S. history, which could keep him behind bars even though a federal magistrate in Honolulu ruled Wednesday he could be freed on $1 million bail.Click to get Text Message Updates right to your phone
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Israeli citizen Mordechai Orian, 45, spent Wednesday night at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu and may have to remain in custody, because now U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials want to keep him behind bars in a deportation case, sources said. ICE has filed an “immigration detainer” against him, sources said.
ICE had allowed him to remain free pending his appeal of an order from July 2009 deporting him back to Israel. The deportation order was based on five false statements Orian listed on federal forms to bring in foreign workers, claiming he was a U.S. citizen when he wasn’t, a federal prosecutor said. Orian would face a hearing in an immigration court before being locked up on immigration charges.
Orian and five others have been indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to commit human trafficking, after allegedly luring 400 farm laborers to Hawaii and the mainland from Thailand and then mistreating them and not paying them properly.
Wednesday afternoon, federal prosecutors asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Kobayashi to keep Orian, president of labor recruiting company Global Horizons, at the federal detention center near Honolulu Airport until his trial begins in November on human trafficking charges, claiming he’s a flight risk.
“He’s not a person who’s willing to comply with the law and rules,” Susan French, of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division told Kobayashi in a Honolulu federal courtroom. “There is a pattern and a history to his conduct.”
French worried Orian might flee the country for Israel where he has family, since he has the means and is facing many years in prison.
A new indictment in the case expected in November may more than double the number of alleged victims to as many as 900, meaning that Orian’s potential prison time if he’s convicted could jump from 70 years to 200 years, she said.
“That amount of prison time is a powerful reason not to stay” in the country for his November trial, French added.
Orian’s criminal defense attorney Mark Werksman disagreed. “Their effort to detain him on these charges at this time is heavy handed. It’s wrong-headed,” he said. “Mr. Orian has extensive ties to this state, to this country. He’s lived here for 15 years with the same wife, with three children who are United States citizens.”
“This man is not a flight risk,” said Werksman. Once he was notified of his indictment last Thursday, Orian paid for his own flight to Honolulu to surrender to the FBI, his attorney said. “He didn’t dawdle. He didn’t flee. He didn’t do anything illegal,” he told Kobayashi.
While Kobayashi said she was “quite concerned about flight risk,” she allowed Orian to be released from federal custody once he posts $1 million bond, based on real estate equity in properties that he owns.
Orian owns a home in Malibu, Calif., where he and his family live. While public records said the property is worth about $1 million, Werksman told Kobayashi it’s worth “at least $500,000.”
His attorney also said he owns two properties in Hawaii, including land in Captain Cook on Hawaii island worth $500,000 where he grows cucumbers, tomatoes and coffee. And his family owns property in Texas, where he runs a nonprofit adoption service in San Antonio.
“In today’s real estate market, there’s quite a lot of speculation as to the value of the home and the business property that will be posted,” Werksman said. “We’re not sure about how many properties and which properties will be required to satisfy the bond,” said Werksman, noting that it could take several weeks to arrange the bond paperwork and get his client released from custody.
Orian would have to wear GPS electronic monitoring equipment once he’s released, would not be allowed to do any work involving foreign laborers and his travel would be restricted to Hawaii and California, under terms of his release.
French said she planned to appeal magistrate Kobayashi’s detention ruling to a federal judge, assuring a second hearing on whether Orian should remain locked up.
An attorney for 56 of his alleged victims, Clare Hanusz, said, “I am a little worried that he is going to be a fugitive from justice and run back to Israel and Israel is going to protect him.”
Federal prosecutors said they’ve seized an airplane used by Global Horizons to fly immigrant farm workers from farm to farm around the country. The company purchased the plane with cash in 2005, French told the federal magistrate, and said federal officials have interviewed the pilot.
She said the flights happened outside of TSA security checks, allowing the company to transport workers — some of them in the United States illegally — without the proper visas, IDs or passports.
In another case, a Nepalese recruiter was awarded a $108,000 judgment against Orian in March for a similar immigration scheme in Canada, French said. “The evidence is going to show he’s a person who’s operated by greed and manipulation,” she added.
Orian has repeatedly been sanctioned for not paying judgments against him, French said. KITV 4 News discovered nine tax liens against Orian since 2003, totaling $2.2 million, including a $1.5 million lien from the IRS in 2007.
“This is a string of unsubstantiated, unproven hearsay,” his attorney Werksman said in court.
In 1996, the International Federation for Human Rights found Orian’s company employed 16 workers from China to work in Israel, after they paid his company the equivalent of $5,000 each to work in Israel for two years. An investigation found $3,000 from each employee went straight to Orian.
The probe found Orian fell two to three months behind on wages. “Instead of paying the workers, he sent 10 armed guards to surprise the workers in their sleep, beat them and drive them to the airport, where they were forcibly deported,” according to the report by the International Federation for Human Rights and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, obtained by KITV 4 News.
In Los Angeles Wednesday, more than two dozen Thai farm workers, alleged victims in the case, appeared at a news conference, hiding their identities with scarves, sunglasses and caps. They detailed how they claim they were mistreated and often not paid for work they did on farms in Hawaii and around the country.
One man who escaped from a Hawaii farm said he was watched by security guards 24 hours a day. “Even when I went to the bathroom or went to do my laundry, there was a security guard watching me and following me,” the man told reporters.
Damrong Kraikruan, consul general of Thailand in Los Angeles, said his country revoked Global Horizons’ license to work in his country in 2005 and convicted on of the firm’s Thai associates of operating a job procurement business without a license, according to the Los Angeles Times. He said Thailand was aggressively working with the United States, the United Nations and surrounding countries to crack down on the growing problem of labor trafficking, the Times reported.