SIX CONTRACT SHOP OWNERS INDICTED IN LOS ANGELES

Byline: Kristi Ellis and Joanna Ramey, Washington

LOS ANGELES--Six owners of three garment contracting shops here, indicted on charges of conspiracy and harboring and employing illegal immigrants, pleaded not guilty at an arraignment here Monday.
Bouaphanh Thammagno and his wife, Vanhivilay, who officials say own Virgil Apparel at 3109 1/2 Beverly Blvd.; Tawach Hirunpolkol and his wife, Kiriya, alleged owners of Good Line at 1643 North Indiana Ave., and Apai Pinwatana and his wife, Sumran Ngernok, who allegedly ran ASC Fashion on North Virgil Avenue, were all indicted on Sept. 8. The raids on these businesses and subsequent indictments followed the Aug. 2 raid on the now notorious sewing shop in suburban El Monte, where workers were allegedly forced into indentured servitude and held against their will.
Unlike the El Monte case, though, where indictments have been brought against nine alleged owners, these three shops were all registered with the state, and there was no evidence of peonage found at the sites.
Immigration and labor officials have claimed, however, that the owners of these three shops could all be linked to a Thai smuggling ring, which allegedly controlled the El Monte operation.
Dismissing the allegations as pure speculation, William L. O'Bryan, an attorney representing Vanhivilay Thammagno, declared that the government has not charged his client with smuggling illegal aliens, which implies that there is no evidence to support the claims.
O'Bryan, who also represents one of the alleged principals of the El Monte operation in a separate case, noted that Thammagno has been charged with employing at least five illegal aliens, some of whom were Thai nationals.
"One might guess that the illegal Thai immigrants might have used the same route to come to the U.S. [as in the El Monte case], but it is all speculation," O'Bryan said.
O'Bryan claimed the Thammagnos have owned Virgil Apparel for 15 years and have a valid registration and have paid income taxes.
Meanwhile, Labor Secretary Robert Reich is taking his anti-sweatshop campaign to the talk shows. On Thursday, Reich is scheduled to tape a Phil Donohue show on "modern-day sweatshops," touching on conditions facing workers in the garment and electrical component assembly industries, as well as domestic help, said producer Rena Donlon.
Reich will appear in a segment following testimonials from workers in these sectors. Jeff Hermanson, director of UNITE's organizing, is also scheduled to appear on the show, in addition to industry officials, who haven't yet been booked, Donlon said. An air date for the show hasn't been set.

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