WASHINGTON D.C. (BNO NEWS) -- Three U.S. men on Wednesday pleaded guilty to human trafficking charges in the largest case of its kind in the country's history, the U.S. Justice Department announced.
Bruce Schwartz, 53, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit forced labor while co-defendants Sam Wongsesanit, 40, and Shane Germann, 42, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit document servitude.
The three defendants were involved in the largest human trafficking scheme in the U.S. involving the Los Angeles-based recruiting company Global Horizons. The illegal operation exploited approximately 600 Thai workers.
"These defendants pleaded guilty to participating in the largest human trafficking scheme ever seen by the Department of Justice," said Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.
On January 18, a superseding indictment charged eight defendants in connection to the scheme to lure about 600 Thai nationals to enter the United States under the federal agricultural guest worker program between 2001 and 2007.
According to the indictment, the defendants conspired to coerce the agricultural labor and services of the Thai nationals by fraudulent means. The workers were induced to incur substantial debts secured by the workers' homes and family land.
Furthermore, the defendants confiscated the workers' passports and threatened to repatriate the victims to face destitution, homelessness and other serious harm if they did not remain in the defendants' service in exchange for meager earnings.
"Through successful prosecution of those who take advantage of immigrant workers, we strive to ensure that the U.S. continues to be a land of economic opportunity, as it has for generations of workers preceding them," said Florence Nakakuni, U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii.
Schwartz, Wongsesanit and Germann are awaiting sentencing and each face maximum sentences of five years in prison. Another co-defendant, Podjanee Sinchai, was charged and convicted in Thailand with recruitment fraud and sentenced to four years in prison.