Byline: Kristi Ellis

LOS ANGELES--Eight of the nine defendants facing a five-count indictment in connection with the alleged smuggling and enslavement of 72 Thai nationals in an El Monte sweatshop pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court here Monday.
The defendants entering their pleas were Suni Manasurangkul, Tavee Uvawas, Sunton Rawungchaisong, Rampa Suthaprasit, Suporn Verayutwilai, Seree Granjapiree, Hong Wangee and Thanes Panthong. The ninth defendant is Sukit Manasurangkul, an alleged recruiter in Thailand, and has not yet been apprehended.
The nine are charged with conspiracy and concealing and harboring illegal aliens. Each defendant is also charged on additional counts depending on their roles in the alleged scheme. The charges include transporting and inducing the illegal aliens to come to the U.S. and hiring them while knowing they were unauthorized to work in the U.S. The events, the indictment says, occurred from January 1991 to Aug. 2, 1995, the day the sweatshop was raided by authorities.
Investigation is still continuing on allegations of additional federal violations including involuntary servitude and peonage.
According to the indictment, the defendants fraudulently recruited the laborers from Thailand, gave them fraudulent passports, flew them to Los Angeles and then transported them directly to the El Monte apartment complex, which served as "a labor camp." In addition, the indictment charges that the defendants confined the laborers against their will and subjected them to oppressive work schedules and low wages, censored their mail and monitored their telephone calls. It alleges the defendants used threats and physical coercion to keep the Thai laborersin the sweatshop.
Four of the five counts each carry a maximum sentence of five years and a fine of $250,000. The fifth carries a maximum sentence of five months, and a $3,000 fine per alien illegally hired and employed in the United States.
The defendants are being held without bail and have been assigned a preliminary hearing Aug. 28 with Judge Lourdes Baird.
At a press conference, representatives from the federal public defender's office said the 72 material witnesses will stay here until the trial is over and have been issued work permits.

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