After touting the Global Horizons human trafficking trial as the largest of its kind in U.S. history, the federal government on Friday dropped all charges in the case.
It’s a stunning turnaround. Global Horizons, a Los Angeles-based labor recruiting company, had been accused of keeping more than 600 Thai workers as indentured laborers on farms in Hawaii, Washington and other states.
The dismissal was directly related to last year’s failed prosecution of Mike and Alec Sou, brothers who own Aloun Farms. That case fell apart mid-trial when the lead prosecutor admitted misstating the law in front of the grand jury that had indicted the brothers.
“The department moved for the dismissal based on an additional review of the evidence following the August 2011 dismissal in United States v. Sou. A team of attorneys and agents determined the government is unable to prove the elements of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt,” Nanda Chitre, spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said in a statement.
The order for dismissal filed in court also cites “the interest of justice.”
At least one defendants in the case was thrilled about the turn of events.
“When I heard the news I stopped the car and started shaking. I couldn’t believe it. I can’t even tell you what we’ve been through,” said former Global Horizons CEO Mordechai Orian.
Orian, reached by phone, blamed the entire episode on Susan French, lead federal prosecutor on both the Aloun Farms and Global Horizons cases. She was taken off both cases shortly after admitting her mistake in the Aloun Farms trial.
“It was just vindictiveness…a malicious prosecution,” Orian said.
Charges were first brought in the Global Horizons case in September 2010.
At one point, the case appeared to tipping in the prosecution’s favor as three defendants pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Orian at trial.
But after the Aloun Farms trial imploded, a new team of prosecutors was brought on and the Global Horizons trial date was pushed back again and again.
Prosecutors maintained that they needed more time to review mountains of documents. At one hearing, lawyers said that they had seized 226 boxes filled with papers and 73 hard drives with 101 million files on them.
But a federal judge ultimately turned down a request for another nine-month continuance.
A status conference on the case had been scheduled for July 30, with trial set to begin on Aug. 28.
Global Horizons is still embroiled in ongoing civil litigation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Last spring, the commission filed suit against six Hawaii farms and Global Horizons alleging discrimination against about 200 Thai farm workers. The civil suit seeks backpay and compensatory damages for the alleged victims.
The Justice Department said Friday that the dismissal of the criminal charges does not apply to the ongoing civil case.
The department also reiterated its commitment to prosecuting traffickers:
“The Department of Justice is committed to identifying, assisting and seeking justice on behalf of human trafficking victims who have been trapped in some form of slavery, coerced labor, debt bondage or sex trafficking. Over the last three years, we’ve achieved significant increases in human trafficking prosecutions – including a rise of more than 30 percent in the number of forced labor and sex trafficking prosecutions, and we will aggressively continue to bring significant cases, ranging from single-victim domestic servitude cases to prosecutions that dismantle transnational organized criminal networks.”