Federal prosecutors sure know how to sweeten a Labor Day weekend. On Friday in Honolulu, they arrested Mordechai "Motty" Orian, the Israeli head of an L.A.-based HR firm that's believed to have foisted the largest human-trafficking case in US history, according to the FBI.
Regular readers of MoJo may recall the story of Orian, his firm Global Solutions, and the brutal conditions of foreign workers his recruiters brought to the US under duress. It was all documented in our May/June 2010 issue by contributor John Bowe. His report, "Bound for America," chronicled how conscientious family providers like Thai worker Nikhom Intajak can be hornswaggled into paying (or rather, owing) a recruiter big bucks for a US temporary worker visa and a job placement. Once in the states, these workers find that all bets are off: Their immigration status is in the hands of someone like Orian, they'll worker harder and make less money than promised, and they'll live in slave conditions. Meanwhile, the locals who recruited the workers back home may claim they owe more in middleman fees, coming after their families and properties. But what can these laborers do? If they run away from their new employers, they'll be illegal immigrants in the US. (The FBI statement on the arrest pretty much reads like a summary of Bowe's piece.)
At the head of this exploitive system was Orian, who acted as a go-between for the pineapple companies and egg farms that needed cheap foreign labor, and the tired, the poor, the huddled masses trying to make a quick buck for work that came naturally to them back home. (According to Raw Story, the Israeli Orian was also a bigtime contributor to Republican causes.) While reporting his MoJo story, Bowe caught up with Orian to get the kingpin's side:
Several times during our conversations, Orian launched into cogent diatribes detailing the shortcomings of American immigration policy. The system was broken. America had become the world's largest prison camp. No one wants to do farmwork in any country. "You know how much I pay when I came to this country?" he said. "You know how much I spend on immigration until now? For my own paperwork? Over $25,000. From visa fee, embassy fee, government fee, lawyers—25,000 goddamn dollars." When I suggested that this hardly compared to loss of family land and home, he scoffed. "Come on. Come on!" Everyone knew that poor workers will say anything to stay and work in the US. Where was the proof that these Thai workers were really losing their homes? "When it comes to money," he shrugged, "people will do crazy stuff. You cannot stop it and come to blame me."
When I mentioned that most people with whom I'd discussed the case felt that his workers had been not just exploited, but trafficked, he dismissed the idea with a jerk of the head. "Let me tell you something," he said. "Every day, I take my kids to school. Sometimes, I get into a traffic jam. That's the only trafficking I do."
FBI officials say they went to Orian's Malibu digs to arrest him Friday, but he'd already blown out of there. They tried to arrest him again at LAX boarding a flight to Honolulu, but it turned out he'd quietly switched flights. Federales finally caught up to him in Hawaii, where he pled not guilty in court on Saturday. He faces up to 70 years in prison.
One thing makes this story even sweeter: Along with Orian, the FBI indicted five co-conspirators, including two Thai recruiters of his slave labor. Among them was Pochanee Sinchai, who'd scammed Intajak, the protagonist of Bowe's story. US officials are now working with Thailand to manage extradition. Of course, unlike his marks, Sinchai won't be paying his own way to good ol' America; there's a prisoner transport waiting to take him away, compliments of Uncle Sam.