Lawsuits reveal new labor trafficking scam on Thai and Indonesian nationals
February 26, 2007 MEDIA RELEASE
(Raleigh, NC) – Twenty-two Thai and three Indonesian workers recently filed
two separate lawsuits against North Carolina employers and Asian labor brokers.
The workers say that their employers and labor brokers deliberately lied to them
and the U.S. government.
The workers came to the U.S. legally under a federal program, which provides
agricultural employers with temporary labor. However, the Thai workers
allege that they were actually victims of labor trafficking. The
Indonesian workers got little or no work opportunities when they reached North
Both workers groups are represented by Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Farmworker Unit,
which provides free civil legal assistance to seasonal and migratory farmworkers
across North Carolina.
“The two cases reflect an emerging pattern.” said Mary Lee Hall, senior managing
attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC). “Labor brokers in Asia,
with ties to NC employers, falsely promise three years of work. Since the
contracts are approved by the U.S. government, workers believe the promises to
be legitimate and pay the huge recruitment fees demanded by the labor brokers.
“However, the actual work may last only a few months, and workers earn a mere
fraction of what they paid to come to the United States. Also the visa is
limited to one employer. It’s a situation ripe for exploitation and a
subversion of the program, which allows for these visas in case of a true labor
Asanok, et al v. Million Express Manpower, Inc. et al: Case No. 5:07-cv-00048-BO
(filed 02/12/07) (E.D.N.C.)
The Thai workers allege that North Carolina corporation Million Express
Manpower, Inc. and a Thai company also called Million Express Manpower violated
the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act by committing visa
fraud. They also claim Million Express Manpower threatened them against leaving
its employment, confiscated their passports, and forced them to work without pay
in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina, violating the federal
Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Million Express Manpower in Thailand promised the workers visas of three years’
duration for agricultural jobs paying U.S. wages. In return, the
workers had to advance their transportation costs and pay “recruitment fees”,
totaling about $11,250 each. The workers did the math and decided they
could recoup their investment in a year or so with hard work and use the
remaining time to earn a nest egg for their families.
“They made a reasonable decision to invest in what seemed a profitable job
opportunity,” said Hall. “They didn’t know that it was all a scam. They
and the U.S. government were both fooled.”
Instead of three years, the farm work was sporadic and ended altogether a few
months after their arrival. The workers had to give Million Express Manpower
their passports and return tickets. Million Express Manpower soon moved
them from the motel housing inspected by the North Carolina Department of Labor
into crowded outbuildings behind its president’s home and rationed their food.
Million Express used guns and other physical and non-physical means of restraint
to prevent their escape. In New Orleans, Million Express didn’t pay them
for the post-Katrina clean-up he ordered them to do, and housed the workers in a
condemned hotel. They were reduced to catching pigeons to eat. Eventually
they were able to escape.
Sianipar, et al v. GTN Employment Agency, et al: Case No. 07-CVS-3490.
The three Indonesian workers brought their lawsuit in North Carolina Superior
Court in Mecklenburg County against GTN Employment Services, Inc., two
Indonesian labor recruiters, and two North Carolina growers.
The three workers each paid over $6000 in recruitment fees and transportation
costs to the labor brokers. It appeared to be a good investment in return
for three years of work in America. One man, Indra Budiawan, mortgaged his
family’s ancestral land – deemed sacred – in order to pay the recruiters.
When they arrived in North Carolina, GTN confiscated their passports, visas and
return plane tickets. GTN never offered a single hour of farm work to two
of the workers, and offered minimal work to the other. Eventually, all
three workers were housed at a GTN warehouse in Charlotte where they had to
share a bare mattress on the floor. When the workers asked to leave, GTN
demanded more money from them in order to retrieve their passports and return
plane tickets. The workers escaped on foot, leaving all their belongings
Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) is a statewide, nonprofit law firm
that provides free legal services in civil matters to eligible, low-income
people in order to provide equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers
to economic opportunity. LANC serves clients in all 100 counties in North
Carolina through 24, geographically located offices in North Carolina.
LANC’s clients typically have an annual income of 125% or less of the federally
established poverty levels.
Mary Lee Hall (Senior Managing Attorney, Farmworker Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC),919-856-2180
Lori Elmer (Staff Attorney, Farmworker Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina, Raleigh,
Katharine Woomer-Deters (Staff Attorney, Farmworker Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC), 919-856-2180
Dock Kornegay (Director, Public Relations & Development, LANC, Raleigh,
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Also please note that Legal Aid of North Carolina does not
provide legal assistance by E-mail. Contact your Legal Aid of
North Carolina office or a private attorney if you need to speak
to an attorney regarding your particular situation.
Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that
provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in
order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers
to economic opportunity.