Sweatshop owner's appeal alleges abduction by FBI
PAGO PAGO, American Samoa » A former garment factory owner convicted of enslaving, starving and beating his workers in American Samoa was "kidnapped by the FBI" and improperly prosecuted in federal court in Honolulu, the defense attorney said.
The High Court of American Samoa was the proper jurisdiction to hear the federal charges against Kil Soo Lee, according to Lee's attorney, Earle Partington, in a 63-page brief filed last month with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
"Essentially, the FBI kidnapped Lee and brought him to Hawaii against his will," said Partington.
Lee was sentenced in June to 40 years in prison and ordered to pay $3 million in restitution for torturing workers at Daewoosa Samoa Ltd. The factory made clothes for J.C. Penney and other retailers before it was closed.
Because Lee's crimes were alleged to have occurred in American Samoa, where the High Court has jurisdiction over felonies committed in the territory, Lee had the constitutional right to be tried before the High Court, Partington said. The federal court in Honolulu has no jurisdiction over federal crimes committed in American Samoa, he said.
Partington is seeking a new trial on all the counts or the re-sentencing of Lee on all counts without the possibility of consecutive sentences being imposed. He also argued that the federal prosecutor did not follow trial instructions and that the sentencing against him is incorrect.
The prosecutor has until May to file a response.
The appeal questions whether the lower court erred in denying the defendant's August 2001 motion to dismiss the case in Honolulu for lack of jurisdiction.
At the time, U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway agreed with the U.S. government that Hawaii was the proper venue to hear the case due to the lack of a federal court in American Samoa, where Lee's crimes were committed.
Mollway had said she imposed the maximum sentences on the charges of involuntary servitude because the crimes Lee committed were so widespread and "horrible."
More than 200 Chinese and Vietnamese workers were held at Daewoosa for more than two years, until 2001 when the National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Labor intervened.