HONOLULU – The 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, part of what the FBI calls the largest human-trafficking case charged in U.S. history
Los Angeles-based Global Horizons Manpower Inc. 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.
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 and wearing a blue collared shirt with gray pants. He was represented by a court-appointed attorney based on his contention that he couldn't afford one himself.
Orian, an Israeli national, faces a maximum sentence of 70 years imprisonment. He was ordered deported from the United States last year, but he has remained in the country during his appeal. The reason for his pending deportation is unknown.
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, N.M.
Authorities intended to arrest Orian when his plane arrived in Honolulu, but they later learned he had tried to "trick" authorities by boarding a separate flight, said French, an attorney with the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. They didn't know his whereabouts until he had already caught a taxi from the Honolulu airport.
"The important thing is that he did make his way to court, and that's an honorable thing to do," said FBI Special Agent Tom Simon.
Orian is being held at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center at least until a hearing next week, when prosecutors will seek to keep in custody until his trial.
He's considered a flight risk because he has used outdated or incorrect passports and visas in the past, French said.
Orian's public relations agency issued a statement criticizing the FBI for breaking doors and windows in his Los Angeles home while he was out of town on business in Texas.
"We feel this was overkill," according to KSL public relations. "Orian has complied with the FBI in negotiating his surrender. He paid for a plane ticket with his own money and flew to Honolulu today to surrender."
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 Thailand authorities to apprehend the two suspects there.