Tuesday, December 10, 2002
Conviction of Diplomat’s Wife for Enslaving Illegal Alien Affirmed
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld the conviction and sentence of a Woodland Hills woman imprisoned for illegally bringing Thai women into the country and forcing them to work in slave-like conditions.
Former restaurant owner Supawan Veerapol, 56, was convicted in 1999 of one count of involuntary servitude and three counts of harboring illegal aliens for bringing three Thai women into the country and forcing them to work long hours in her home and restaurant.
Veerapol, the common-law wife of a Thai diplomat, used her contacts to get passports for the three women, evidence showed. She also was convicted of seven counts of mail fraud for running up massive bills on credit cards she opened in the women’s names.
Veerapol was sentenced by Judge Carlos Moreno two years ago to 97 months in prison, and ordered to pay the unpaid credit card bills. She also was ordered to pay more than $71,000 in back wages as part of restitution.
Moreno, then a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, has since been appointed to the California Supreme Court.
Veerapol’s attorney, Cara DeVito of West Hills, argued on appeal that prosecutors failed to prove a violation of the involuntary servitude statute. The term “involuntary servitude” is not defined in the act, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that prosecutors must show that the victim was “forced to work for the defendant by the use or threat of physical restraint or physical injury, or by the use of coercion through law or the legal process,” and that the threats or coercion “could plausibly have compelled the victim to serve.”
Judge Kim Wardlaw, writing yesterday for the Ninth Circuit, cited evidence that Veerapol brought Nobi Saeieo to this country, refused her “frequent entreaties” for permission to return to Thailand and threatened to kill her if she left, and told her that she would be arrested as an illegal alien if she sought police help in leaving Veerapol’s employ.
That was enough to prove the charge, Wardlaw said, noting that it was up to the jury to determine whether the “plausible compulsion requirement had been met.”
The appellate jurist also agreed with Moreno that a “vulnerable victim” enhancement that added approximately 18 months to the sentence was appropriate, rejecting the argument that a victim’s vulnerability was already an element of the offense.
Wardlaw noted that Saeieo was uneducated, foreign, and unfamiliar with the English language or U.S. laws or customs, factors not necessarily present in other involuntary servitude cases.
During trial, Saeieo testified she was told to serve guests while on one knee and forced to sleep outside Veerapol’s bedroom in case she wanted anything during the night. Prosecutors said Veerapol restricted the women’s access to telephones and mail, and forced the three to work 16-hour days.
The case is United States v. Veerapol, 00-50042.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company