On the island of Murilo, part of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Chochols live with their six children in a one-room, cinderblock house with a tin roof, lighted with sunshine by day and a flashlight by night. Pigs, chickens and dogs wander the tiny dot in the Pacific Ocean that about 200 people call home.
Murilo is a 60-mile trek across open ocean from the main island of Chuuk. On a sunny Saturday in March, it took Happy Chochol 11 hours to make the trip.
Over and over the 18-foot motorboat nosed up steeply as it fought 7-foot waves, then slammed down with a spine-cracking thud. The trip, which began at 2 p.m., ended in darkness after midnight.
As the boat neared Murilo, the pilot radioed ahead. Chochol's family and dozens of others lined the shore with flashlights to guide the boat the final quarter-mile. They cheered as it was pulled up on the beach and its drenched occupants wobbled ashore.
They had journeyed to the United States hoping to capture a piece of the American dream and bring it back to share with their parents and the five children they'd left in their care.
The Chochols were lucky to make it home. Many of the thousands of Pacific islanders lured to America to work at low-wage jobs in nursing homes and amusement parks are stranded when recruiters break promises to pay their return airfare.
Because of clever legal maneuvering by the company that recruited them - Medical Placement Services Inc. of Bonita Springs, Fla. - they almost shared that fate. But thanks to the fund-raising efforts of a couple who befriended them in the tiny Iowa town of Knoxville, they were able to come home.
Mineko Chochol said that when she and her husband were recruited by Medical Placement Services - owned by recruiter Donald Finn - they signed a contract on July 15, 1999, that contained a "return transportation" clause: "MPSI agrees to provide client with a nonrefundable one-way airline ticket to Micronesia upon client's successful completion of his or her two-year contract for services."
"We heard they would pay us to come here and they would pay our ticket back," said Mineko Chochol.
But while they were working in Iowa, Medical Placement Services was legally dissolved on Nov. 14, 2000. A few months later, a letter from the company's attorney, J. Edward Goff, said the company had folded and couldn't pay for airfare. Medical Placement "had no assets and no known liabilities," Goff wrote on Feb. 3, 2001.
Johnny Hebel, the man who recruited the Chochols in Micronesia, acknowledged that the promise of return airfare was broken "when the program bankrupted."
But Finn had not left the recruiting business. He was simply operating under the name of another of his companies, Guardian Solutions Inc. The two firms operated with "the same employees, in the same offices, using the same supplies and equipment," Finn said in a sworn statement on July 28, 2001. He testified that he owned 100 percent of the stock in both companies.
On many company documents the firms are listed together. Some recruits, though not the Chochols, signed contracts with both.
Guardian Solutions filed for bankruptcy early this year, stranding more islanders. Finn filed for personal bankruptcy about the same time, after alleging that an associate had tried to pirate his business.
In a recent interview, Finn insisted that he had never promised recruits return airfare, despite the clear language of the contract, signed by a former associate, Dennis DeMichele. He accused former employees of making that promise without his knowledge.
Ironically, had the Chochols died, at least part of the cost of transportation home would have been paid for under a separate contract with the nursing home. The operators agreed to pay $500 toward the shipment of their remains to Micronesia.