News/USA: Jury Convicts Woman of Exploiting Thai Workers

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Subject: News/USA: Jury Convicts Woman of Exploiting Thai Workers
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Mon Aug 16 1999 - 11:06:58 EDT


Jury Convicts Woman of Exploiting Thai Workers
+Courts: Woodland Hills resident forced illegal immigrants to work 18-hour
days and obtained credit cards in their names.
By David Rosenzweig
Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1999

Woodland Hills woman prominent in the Thai community was convicted Thursday
on federal charges of involuntary servitude, harboring illegal immigrants
and using their signatures to fraudulently obtain credit cards.

Supawan Veerapol, 53, was taken away in handcuffs after the jury found her
guilty on 11 of 13 criminal charges involving her treatment of Thai
immigrants who worked at her home and at two restaurants she operated in
the San Fernando Valley.

Veerapol, described by prosecutors as the common law wife of Thailand's
ambassador to Sweden, was accused of using her political influence to bring
women workers into the United States, forcing them to work as many as 18
hours a day.

Some victims testified that Veerapol confiscated their passports, censored
their mail, restricted their contact with the outside world and threatened
harm to their families in Thailand when they tried to leave.

The jury's verdict came after a day and a half of deliberations. "We think
this is a just outcome that should send a message that this sort of
activity in Los Angeles will be taken seriously," Assistant U.S. Atty. Jack
Weiss said afterward.

Defense attorney W. Anthony Willoughby expressed disappointment with the
verdict and promised an appeal. Willoughby asked U.S. District Judge Carlos
Moreno to give Veerapol time to get her affairs in order before ordering
her into custody. He said she needed to arrange care for her son, who is
nearly 18.

Moreno refused. "I would have serious doubts that she would return for
sentencing," he said as he remanded her into custody on the spot.

Veerapol, who will be sentenced Oct. 18, faces six to eight years in
prison, said Weiss, who prosecuted the case with Assistant U.S. Atty. Arif
Alikhan.

Weiss said Veerapol has overstayed her visa in the United States and will
be deported when she is released from prison.

The jury found her guilty on one count of involuntary servitude in
connection with her treatment of Nobee Saeieo, 58, who testified through an
interpreter that she was forced to work long hours for little pay in the
defendant's home and now-closed Gulf of Siam restaurant.

Saeieo said she was required to crawl on her hands and knees to serve
Veerapol's house guests from the Thai Consulate and other persons of
status, a claim denied by the defense.

She said her duties included cleaning the house, washing Veerapol's
Mercedes-Benz and giving her employer manicures and pedicures. The jury
acquitted Veerapol of involuntary servitude charges involving two other
women, Thonglim Khamphiranon and Somkhit Yindiphot, who also were brought
into the country illegally to work for her.

But the panel convicted Veerapol of harboring all three of the women as
illegal immigrants and found her guilty on seven counts of mail fraud for
obtaining credit cards in their names and charging bills that were never paid.

Veerapol was arrested last year after two of the women escaped with the
help of a sympathetic Thai family who brought them to a Thai community
services center. After listening to their accounts, authorities there
notified law enforcement officials.


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