Paul McNamara, in the Los Angeles office of O’Melveny & Myers, secured a $768,000 judgment last week for an Indonesian domestic worker who was enslaved by a banker and his wife in their LaCanada home.
The verdict is one of the first civil judgments under the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which passed in 2005, according to McNamara and Kevin Kish, an attorney at Bet Tzedek, a public interest law firm that worked on the case with O’Melveny.
McNamara, who usually works on class actions and insurance defense, said he wasn't aware of the scale of human trafficking here before taking this case, which the firm handled pro bono.
“This really is not an isolated incident,” he said. “It’s widespread in Los Angeles and California.”
Bank executives as tight-fisted human traffickers, after the jump.
Andrew Tjia and his wife, Sycamore Choi, pleaded guilty in 2008 to human trafficking and false imprisonment. Choi is serving one year of house arrest. Tjia is on court-supervised probation, but has managed to secure a job with Merrill Lynch in Singapore, according to a deposition. Tjia was the founder and president of American Premier Bank, a small commercial lender in Arcadia in Southern California.
“In the end, much of this case came down to the pure issue of who do you believe,” McNamara said. “There wasn’t much external evidence.”
The undisputed facts in the case were that Tjia’s father brought Suminarti Sayuti Yusuf to Los Angeles in early 2006 and wrote down a false address on her immigration form, according to McNamara.
Yusuf said Tjia and Choi confiscated her passport, didn’t pay her, required her to work 16-hour days, seven days a week, and never permitted her to leave the house. They told Yusuf to lie and say she was a family member if law enforcement ever visited the Tjia residence.
The defense claimed that Yusuf came to the United States voluntarily, was a guest in the Tjia residence, and fabricated the enslavement story to obtain a permanent visa.
Working with McNamara on the case were O’Melveny counsel Bob Nicksin, associates Timothy Caballero, Jennifer Cheng, and paralegal Angelina Stone.
Thousands of people are trafficked and enslaved in the U.S. each year, according to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.
Mitch Kamin, executive director of Bet Tzedek, said trafficking often involves people taking advantage of others from their own countries.
“It ranges from one-off instances to deliberate criminal activity focused on trafficking for purposes of forced labor and sexual enslavement,” Kamin said.
— Amanda Royal
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