WASHINGTON — The former owner of a garment factory in American Samoa was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in prison for holding more than 200 Chinese and Vietnamese workers in forced servitude, closing the biggest human-trafficking case brought by the U.S. Justice Department.
Kil Soo Lee was charged in 2001 in connection with conditions at the Daewoosa plant and convicted in 2003 in federal court in Hawaii, which has jurisdiction over Samoa, a U.S. territory. A manager and a garment worker at the factory pleaded guilty to trafficking charges and were sentenced last year, receiving 70 months and 51 months, respectively.
“Human trafficking is a moral evil that is nothing less than modern-day slavery,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a statement Thursday. “The Department of Justice will continue to pursue and prosecute all those who attempt to profit from human suffering.”
The workers paid fees of $5,000 to $8,000 to work at Daewoosa and some were recruited through state-owned labor-export companies in Vietnam. J.C. Penney was one of the U.S. stores that bought goods made at Daewoosa. A spokesman said the company returned the merchandise and cut off orders from their third-party supplier when the situation was disclosed.
After months of laboring in poor conditions and with little pay, the workers complained in March 1999 and tried to get food from local residents, according to the Justice Department. Lee retaliated with food deprivation and beatings that continued through November 2000. The government seized the factory.