24 June 2005

Slavery Conviction in Samoa

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin of 23 June 2005 reports on the sentencing of a man convicted of enslaving Vietnamese and Chinese workers in Samoa.
An American Samoa factory owner convicted of what federal prosecutors call the biggest "modern-day slavery" case in U.S. history was sentenced yesterday to 40 years in prison.

In February 2003 after a four-month trial, a jury here found Kil Soo Lee, 52, guilty of 14 counts, including conspiracy, involuntary servitude, extortion and money laundering. The case involved 300 Vietnamese and Chinese immigrant workers, the largest number of victims of involuntary servitude, prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway said the 40 years, which reflected consecutive terms well above the guideline range, was appropriate given the physical, psychological and financial harm the workers endured and continue to suffer to this day. Lee was facing a range of 30 years to life.

She also noted Lee showed "greed, arrogance and contempt for American law" for disregarding an order by the U.S. Department of Labor that he run a legal workplace and pay the workers back wages.

Lee recruited Chinese and Vietnamese workers, ranging from their early 20s to their 40s, to work in his factory producing garments for major U.S. retailers. The workers incurred large debts to pay export labor companies up to $5,000 each to work at Daewoosa Samoa Ltd. in Pago Pago from March 1999 to November 2000.

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