BROOKLYN (CN) – A Korean woman claims a Buddhist monk and his family enslaved her for 12 years after smuggling her into the United States through Canada.
Plaintiff Oak-Jin Oh claims lead defendant Soo Bok Choi hired her in 1998 through a Korean employment agency. She says Choi offered her 1.3 million Korean won per month – about $1,200 U.S. – to work at his home and temple in the United States.
Oh says Choi flew her from Korea to Toronto, where she was forced to cook and clean for his family without pay.
“After several weeks, at defendant Soo Bok Choi’s direction, the Choi family smuggled Ms. Oh into the United States. Under the cover of night, defendant Kyung Bok Choi and his two children, defendant Young Mi Choi and Young Kyung Choi, brought Ms. Oh to a small boat, which they used to cross into New York State. Defendant Soo Bok Choi met the group and drove them to a residence in Elmhurst, New York. Upon information and belief, other members of the Choi family entered the United States in the same manner, but on different days. Ms. Oh did not realize until years later that she had entered the country without authorization,” the complaint states.
Then the Choi family took her to their other New York homes, in Little Neck, Flushing, Bayside and Whitestone, Oh says: “The Choi Family harbored Ms. Oh everywhere they lived.”
Oh says the Chois confiscated her passport, threatened to kill her, made her sleep on a basement floor, cut her off from the outside world, and never gave her a day off.
“Ms. Oh worked for the Choi family every day of the week. She typically worked at least fourteen hours a day, although she often worked more as instructed. Ms. Oh was required to be on call twenty-four hours a day to respond to the Choi family’s needs at any time, day or night. She worked like this for twelve years, without a day off and without any true breaks. …
“The Choi Family did not allow Ms. Oh to come and go as she pleased. They did not permit Ms. Oh to leave the house without express permission from defendants Soo Bok Choi, Sung Bok Choi or Ki Soon Lee, who only gave such permission when it was necessary for Ms. Oh to leave the house to run errands for the Choi family such as buying groceries.
“Ms. Oh’s work each day included, but was not limited to, preparing meals for members of the Choi family, setting and clearing the table, doing dishes, vacuuming and otherwise cleaning the house, watching and attending to the children and the elderly defendant Ki Soon Lee, doing laundry for members of the Choi Family, and making the beds of members of the Choi family. Ms. Oh was required to perform whatever other tasks the Choi Family would ask of her. …
“As defendant Ki Soon Lee’s health deteriorated, the Choi family forced Ms. Oh to spend more hours a day (up to forty percent of her time) caring for her. The Choi family required Ms. Oh to bathe and prepare soft foods for defendant Ki Soon Lee as well as sit with her and attend to her every need. Ms. Oh was required to assist defendant Ki Soon Lee to use the bathroom and to change positions on her bed. The defendants made Ms. Oh change defendant Ki Soon Lee’s clothing and sheets when she soiled herself,” according to the complaint.
Choi’s Little Neck house doubled as the Temple Mitasa, which was open to congregants seven days a week, Oh says. It operated there until 2001, when it was moved to Seoul, Oh says.
She says the Choi family kept her cowed with threats of violence, deportation and murder.
“The Choi family coerced Ms. Oh to work without pay by creating a climate of fear and intimidation in the household, essentially treating her as a prisoner under constant surveillance. …
“Defendant Sung Bok Choi verbally abused and physically threatened Ms. Oh. He yelled at Ms. Oh when he was dissatisfied with her work. Defendant Sung Bok Choi became violent when he was drunk, and he was frequently drunk. He threw objects at Ms. Oh such as remote controls, videotapes, books, alcohol bottles and cups.
“Defendant Sung Bok Choi also told Ms. Oh that he could easily pay to have someone kill her.
“The Choi family frequently threatened that they would report Ms. Oh to the immigration authorities and have her deported. They also coerced her into continuing to work for them by telling her she would never be able to get another job because of her immigration status.
“None of the other Defendants ever came to Ms. Oh’s aid.
“Not only did defendants fail to pay Ms. Oh for this work, but they failed to attend to her basic needs. Ms. Oh usually had to sleep on the floor, often in the basement, with nothing other than some old blankets. During the twelve years that Ms. Oh worked for the Choi family, the defendants never bought her new clothes. Other than the clothes she brought with her from Korea, the only clothes Ms. Oh received were discarded clothes that defendant Young Lin Choi gave her from time to time,” the complaint states.
Oh seeks compensatory and punitive damages for involuntary servitude, forced labor, human trafficking, racketeering, fraud labor law violations.
She is represented by Alicia Chang with Davis Polk & Wardwell and Ivy Suriyopas with the Asian American Legal Defense Fund.The Asian American Legal Defense Fund began an Anti-Trafficking Initiative in 2005. Citing federal statistics, it estimates that tens of thousands of people are trafficked into the United States every year.