Man pleads not guilty
in alien smuggling case

His attorney calls him a "well-respected businessman in the community."

But federal authorities say Lueleni Fetongi Maka, of Waipahu, trafficked in humans, smuggling four Tongan nationals into Hawaii and forcing them to work for his tree-trimming and rock wall businesses.

Maka, 50, who also owns a pig farm in Nanakuli, pleaded not guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court to a 24-count indictment filed last week charging him with four counts each of human trafficking, involuntary servitude and forced labor.

He is also charged with alien smuggling, harboring aliens and seizing passports and travel documents from three of the workers. One alien smuggling count refers to a fifth worker who allegedly was recruited and brought to Hawaii by Maka in January to work for him but was discovered to have had a false passport.

Deputy federal defender William Domingo said Maka, who is married and has three children, is "anxious" to get the case to trial and prove his innocence.

Thursday's indictment accused Maka of recruiting the workers at different time periods beginning in May 2001 and holding them in involuntary servitude, threatening them with serious harm or physical restraint if they disobeyed. The period each worked ranged from about a year to 1 1/2 years, with the latest ending on Jan. 27, just before Maka was charged in a complaint with a single count of human trafficking.

He was first indicted in February and has been in custody since.

Maka is a Tongan citizen living in the United States as a permanent resident, prosecutors said. He has been in Hawaii since 1976.

Maka is believed to be the first Hawaii resident to be charged under the federal "forced labor" statute, passed by Congress as part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Shipley.

During a detention hearing in February on the earlier charge, prosecutors argued that Maka be detained and cited pending cases in which he allegedly beat the workers if they did not work or withheld pay.

Domingo said, "My guy denies all these things."


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