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2 Brothers Sentenced to 6 Years in Thai Slavery Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two members of a Thai family that ran the notorious El Monte sweatshop were sentenced to six years in federal prison Monday in a downtown court filled with former workers who watched their onetime captors beg the judge for leniency.

The two brothers, Wirachai and Phanasak Manasurangkun, had pleaded guilty, along with other members of their family, to involuntary slavery charges in February and could have been sentenced to 45 years behind bars.

However, their lawyers and the government lawyers agreed on the six-year terms and U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins concurred.

The defendants made one last, futile attempt to get a lower sentence by pleading with the judge to take into account the welfare of their families.

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In addition, the judge ordered the Manasurangkun family to pay $4.5 million to 81 workers, one of whom was kept imprisoned at the El Monte garment factory for seven years.

“They are relieved that this closes one chapter of their long road to justice,” said Julie Su, the attorney for the workers, many of whom worked under armed guard 20 hours a day for $1 an hour, surrounded by barbed wire, and slept in bedrooms with eight other people.

For many the ordeal was all that they would know of America until federal and state authorities raided the El Monte factory last August. The workers had been recruited from Thailand, lured with the hopes of high paying jobs.

“America stands for freedom and human rights,” said one worker named Yat, who did not want to give her last name. “My idea of coming to America was to get a good job so I could support my family back in Thailand. But, as soon as I arrived in El Monte, I felt bad.”

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Another worker, Jane, simply said: “I felt like I was really living in hell.” On Monday, other members of the family, including the brother’s mother, Suni Manasurangkun, known as “Auntie,” will be sentenced.

The mother, who was the leader of the shop along with her eldest son, Sunchai, is expected to receive a seven-year prison term. Sunchai Manasurangkun has been a fugitive since the August raid, and authorities suspect that he is living in Thailand.

“These are among the largest sentences ever imposed in a modern slavery case,” said Assistant Atty. Gen. for Civil Rights Deval L. Patrick.


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