18 Jun 2003

Tongan denies human trafficking charges in Hawaii

4:52 pm on 18 June 2003

A Tongan man has pleaded innocent 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 the alleged recruiting and transporting of 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 Tongan's passports and other immigration documents.

If convicted on all accounts, Maka faces a maximum of 370 years in prison.

The cases come as a newly established taskforce of law enforcement, immigration authorities and NGOs, begins operating to curb the increase of human trafficking through Hawaii.