The Sous Counting On Friends In High Places
Wednesday - July 28, 2010
I don’t know Alec and Mike Sou of Aloun Farms in Ewa, who are awaiting sentencing in a case involving Thai workers. But I do love their produce and buy it regularly at the KCC Farmers Market. Their 3,000 acres greatly benefit our move toward farm-fresh eating. Alec is a Punahou boy. Republican Sen. Sam Slom writes that “the Sous are big-time contributors to Democrat politicians.”
Factually, here’s what happened and what Alec and Mike Sou pleaded guilty to with no mitigating circumstance in their agreements with the feds. Nine years ago, they contracted with a Thai agent to bring to Hawaii 44 farm laborers at low wages, with $20,000 upfront fees per man and woman to the agent - that’s $880,000. They housed all 44 at first in a five-bedroom home in Waianae, and later some in shipping containers on the farm. They paid them lower-than-promised wages and said they could be deported if they tried to leave their employment. (They now deny that latter threat.)
Those are facts, or at least the facts the Sous agreed to in their guilty plea. True, the Sous used the Thai agent to recruit and do the deal, but nothing in their signed plea says they did not know the deal.
So I’m puzzled that former governors Waihee and Cayetano, both lawyers, could have read the Sou plea papers in entirety and then written to federal Judge Susan Oki Mollway and said Alec and Mike were nice guys doing nice things for Hawaii and should be let off without prison time. Dick Grimm, who does a great job running Hawaii Foodbank, said they’d given lots of food and should be shown mercy.
Good deeds and community involvement count in probation hearings and parole decisions. But the base charge has to do with importing poor-people labor from abroad under circumstances illegal under American law.
Those give-the-Sous-a-break letters didn’t happen in a vacuum. Alec Sou sent out an e-mail saying “it has been stated by our attorneys that the judge commented positively about the support and they believe that your letters and personal support will help the outcome of our case.”
The sentencing last week was put off until September. I think those letters could have a backlash effect. The brothers did what they did and admitted it. If you or I imported and used foreign labor that way, we’d be on our way as average Joes to a federal prison for a long time. If Judge Mollway lets Alec and Mike off with a slap on the wrist, doesn’t that send a message to us that friends in high places count?
That Waihee, Cayetano and Grimm would excuse what the Sous pleaded guilty to deeply troubles me, and should not influence Judge Mollway.And I have to wonder if those fellows and community activist Kioni Dudley - who wrote an impassioned newspaper defense of the Sous - bothered to read the plea agreements. I don’t think they did. You can’t read them and say, “Those are just nice farmers who broke a law they didn’t understand.”
Alec and Mike grew up here. They know our laws.
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