19 Jun 2003

Tongan man faces people-smuggling charges in Hawaii court

10:22 am on 19 June 2003

A Tongan man has pleaded not guilty to charges of smuggling four Tongan nationals into Hawaii and forcing them to work for his tree trimming and rockwall building business.

Fifty year old, Lueleni Fetongi Maka, faces a total 24 counts stemming from allegations he recruited and transported the Tongans into the United States in 2001.

Federal public defender, William Domingo, said Maka is anxious to get the trial underway to prove his innocence, noting that his client is a well respected businessman in Honolulu.

Maka is charged with four counts each of human trafficking, involuntary servitude and forced labour.

Other charges include mutiple counts of alien smuggling, harbouring aliens and unlawful conduct in confiscating the Tongans passports and other immigration documents.

Maka faces up to 370 years in prison if convicted.

Recently, Daewoosa garment factory owner, Kil Soo Lee was convicted in Hawaii of involuntary servitude and the forced labour of Asian workers in American Samoa.

The latest case comes as a newly established taskforce of law enforcement, immigration authorities and NGOs begins operating to curb an increase in human trafficking through Hawaii.