News/US: Thai Illegal Immigrant Testifies in Slavery Trial

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Subject: News/US: Thai Illegal Immigrant Testifies in Slavery Trial
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Jul 21 1999 - 16:21:21 EDT


Thai Illegal Immigrant Testifies in Slavery Trial
By DAVID ROSENZWEIG
Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1999

Nobe Saeieo, a 59-year-old illegal immigrant from Thailand, fell on bended
knees Tuesday to demonstrate for a federal court jury how she was forced to
serve food as an alleged slave to a Woodland Hills woman.

Saeieo was the first prosecution witness in the trial of Supawan Veerapol,
who is charged with harboring illegal immigrants, keeping them in
involuntary servitude and using their identities to open checking accounts
and credit cards that she used for herself. Supawan's attorney said the
charges against his client are groundless.

As the jurors rose from their seats to watch the demonstration, Saeieo
slumped to her knees in front of them and held out her hands as if she were
serving a plate of food.

Speaking through an interpreter, she said that Supawan had ordered her to
"lower myself down" when serving food to guests from the Thai consulate or
other persons of rank.

Supawan, described in a government affidavit as the common law wife of
Thailand's ambassador to Sweden, is accused of using her political
connections to the Thai government to obtain passports and visas for a
succession of women who entered the United States illegally to work for her.

Federal prosecutors have yet to explain how Supawan was able to secure the
visas, which are supposed to be issued by a U.S. consulate.

Saeieo said Supawan recruited her in Thailand in 1989 to come to the United
States and work as a $240-a-month cook at Supawan's restaurant, the Gulf of
Siam. She said that she and two other illegal immigrants shared a room at
Supawan's home.

Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Atty. Jack Weiss, she said she worked
seven days a week, arising early each morning to scrub floors, wash and
iron clothes and, twice a week, wash Supawan's car.

At midmorning, she said, she was driven to Supawan's restaurant in a strip
mall, where she worked until closing time late at night.

Though exhausted, Saeieo said, she was sometimes forced to work when she
got home at late-night dinner parties Supawan gave for friends in the Los
Angeles Thai community.

She said she felt "like a slave" during the six years she worked for Supawan.

She said Supawan held her passport, censored her mail, denied her use of a
telephone and contact with other people in the Thai community.

In his opening statement to the jury, defense attorney W. Anthony
Willoughby called the charges against Supawan a joke. He said she is the
victim of a conspiracy by a business rival working in league with the
Immigration and Naturalization Service agent assigned to the case.

The alleged victims, he said, were free to come and go as they pleased and
had keys to Supawan's house and restaurant.


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