Investigation, Raid, and Trial

In the early 1990's, rumors of a Thai run slave shop in the Los Angeles garment community circulated among law enforcement. In 1992 the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) received a tip about the El Monte operation but they could not obtain enough information to establish probable cause and secure a search warrant on the federal charges of smuggling and slavery.El Monte compound 

Three years later Tongkun Kim, an investigator for the California Department of Industrial Relations, El Monte tip letterstarted asking community members about the rumored shop. Kim talked to two informants; one (the boyfriend of an escaped worker) told him the shop was in El Monte with about 70 workers. The other informant gave him some names in the downtown LA garment district. Acting on the tip, Kim staked out the apartment complex and gathered enough information to obtain a search warrant for the misdemeanor charge of illegal homework.

 

The raid was led by the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) with the assistance of local police, translators, and others. INS agents, waiting in a nearby location, came half an hour after being called by the DLSE State officers. federal officer jacketAt this point the federal officers were able to enter the site and arrest the eight operators of clandestine garment shop. They also took the 72 Thai workers into INS custody. A ninth operator escaped from the downtown shop and a tenth member of the business remained at large in Thailand. The case received much media coverage and raised public concern. The Los Angeles Thai community worked to secure bonds and housing so the workers could be released. After holding them for nine days in detention, INS released the workers and granted them temporary permission to remain in the U.S. as material witnesses to the case against the sweatshop operators. Later the workers were allowed to apply for permanent residency.

El Monte courtroom sketchThe case was prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. In February 1996, the eight operators of the El Monte sweatshop pled guilty in federal court to conspiracy, involuntary servitude (slavery), and the smuggling and harboring of illegal immigrants. The sentences ranged from two to seven years and a $250,000 fine.  

 

During the raid officers seized documents that showed a number of manufacturers and retailers were directly contracting with the El Monte sweatshop. By 1999, 11 companies Mervyn’s, Montgomery Ward, clothing labelsTomato, B.U.M. International, Lf Sportswear, Miller’s Outpost, Balmara, Beniko, F-40 California, Ms. Tops, and Topson Downs agreed to pay more than $3.7 million dollars in back wages to the 150 workers who had labored in the El Monte sweatshop and its front operation. These companies made no admission of wrongdoing.

 

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This map and letter was sent by the boyfriend of an escaped sweatshop worker. The letter outlines the security measures enacted by the shop, and pleads for swift action.
Description
This map and letter was sent by the boyfriend of an escaped sweatshop worker. The letter outlines the security measures enacted by the shop, and pleads for swift action. Acting on the tip, investigators from the California Department of Industrial Relations staked out the apartment complex and gathered enough information to obtain a search warrant.
On August 2, 1995, police officers raided a fenced seven-unit apartment complex in El Monte, California. They arrested eight operators of a clandestine garment sweatshop and freed 72 workers who were being forced to sew garments in virtual captivity. Smuggled from Thailand into the United States, the laborers’ plight brought a national spotlight to domestic sweatshop production and resulted in increased enforcement by federal and state labor agencies. The publicity of the El Monte raid also put added pressure on the apparel industry to reform its labor and business practices domestically and internationally.
Location
Currently not on view
ID Number
1996.0292.42c
catalog number
1996.0292.42c
accession number
1996.0292
On August 2, 1995, police officers raided a fenced seven-unit apartment complex in El Monte, California. They arrested eight operators of a clandestine garment sweatshop and freed 72 workers who were being forced to sew garments in virtual captivity.
Description
On August 2, 1995, police officers raided a fenced seven-unit apartment complex in El Monte, California. They arrested eight operators of a clandestine garment sweatshop and freed 72 workers who were being forced to sew garments in virtual captivity. Smuggled from Thailand into the United States, the laborers’ plight brought a national spotlight to domestic sweatshop production and resulted in increased enforcement by federal and state labor agencies. The publicity of the El Monte raid also put added pressure on the apparel industry to reform its labor and business practices domestically and internationally.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1995
ID Number
1996.0292.41
catalog number
1996.0292.41
accession number
1996.0292
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
date made
Late 20th Century
ID Number
1997.0279.02
catalog number
1997.0279.02
accession number
1997.0279
These negatives illustrate the inhumane working and living conditions of people that worked in sweatshops in the 1990's in the United States.Currently not on view
Description
These negatives illustrate the inhumane working and living conditions of people that worked in sweatshops in the 1990's in the United States.
Location
Currently not on view
Date Made
1990 -1999
ID Number
1997.0279.15.2.7
catalog number
1997.0279.15.2.7
accession number
1997.0279
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
date made
Late 20th Century
1990s
ID Number
1997.0279.04
catalog number
1997.0279.04
accession number
1997.0279
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1989
ID Number
1997.0279.05
catalog number
1997.0279.05
accession number
1997.0279
This baseball cap belonged to a member of the Targeted Industries Partnership Program, a joint enforcement and education effort of the California Department of Industrial Relations, the California Employment Development Department, and the U.S.
Description
This baseball cap belonged to a member of the Targeted Industries Partnership Program, a joint enforcement and education effort of the California Department of Industrial Relations, the California Employment Development Department, and the U.S. Department of Labor focuses on stopping unfair competition and worker exploitation. TIPP’s most prominent case — the El Monte sweatshop — was cracked by investigators from the California Department of Industrial Relations.
On August 2, 1995, police officers raided a fenced seven-unit apartment complex in El Monte, California. They arrested eight operators of a clandestine garment sweatshop and freed 72 workers who were being forced to sew garments in virtual captivity. Smuggled from Thailand into the United States, the laborers’ plight brought a national spotlight to domestic sweatshop production and resulted in increased enforcement by federal and state labor agencies. The publicity of the El Monte raid also put added pressure on the apparel industry to reform its labor and business practices domestically and internationally.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
Late 20th Century
1990s
ID Number
1997.0279.01
catalog number
1997.0279.01
accession number
1997.0279
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
date made
Late 20th Century
ID Number
1997.0383.01
accession number
1997.0383
catalog number
1997.0383.01
This is an official identification card for Joe Razo of the California labor commission staff. The card was has his photo in upper right corner. Joe Razo was hired in 1978 and helped form the Concentrated Enforcement Program.
Description
This is an official identification card for Joe Razo of the California labor commission staff. The card was has his photo in upper right corner. Joe Razo was hired in 1978 and helped form the Concentrated Enforcement Program. The Department of Industrial Relations is responsible for enforcing State labor laws such as minimum wage.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1974
ID Number
1997.3113.02
nonaccession number
1997.3113
catalog number
1997.3113.02
This badge belonged to Administrator Labor Commissioner Joe Razo. The gold badge is set in a leather wallet and depicts the seal of California and says "Administrator Labor Commissioner" with blue lettering.
Description
This badge belonged to Administrator Labor Commissioner Joe Razo. The gold badge is set in a leather wallet and depicts the seal of California and says "Administrator Labor Commissioner" with blue lettering. Joe Razo who was hired in 1978 and helped form the Concentrated Enforcement Program. The Department of Industrial Relations is responsible for enforcing State labor laws such as minimum wage.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
Late 20th Century
ID Number
1997.3113.01
nonaccession number
1997.3113
catalog number
1997.3113.01
NMAH-AHB2019q175252
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
True
1
AHB2019q175252.tif
NMAHCLREQ-1027
Washington, DC
NMAH
NMAH-DoH-Work and Industry-552064
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of American History
/Category/NMAH/NMAH-CDIS/
False
BITMAP
3000
Work and Industry History of Technology Production and Manufacturing
False
NMAH
National Museum of American History
2019:11:20 15:58:59.70
Washington, DC
USA
NMAHRightsReproductions@si.edu
20560
Not determined
Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History 14th St. and Constitution Ave., NW
USA
americanhistory.si.edu
For more information, contact NMAHRightsReproductions@si.edu
Record ID
pgd-1661960310849-1661964432905-1
NMAH-AHB2019q175253
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
True
1
AHB2019q175253.tif
NMAHCLREQ-1027
Washington, DC
NMAH
NMAH-DoH-Work and Industry-552064
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of American History
/Category/NMAH/NMAH-CDIS/
False
BITMAP
3000
Work and Industry History of Technology Production and Manufacturing
False
NMAH
National Museum of American History
2019:11:20 16:19:53.10
Washington, DC
USA
NMAHRightsReproductions@si.edu
20560
Not determined
Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History 14th St. and Constitution Ave., NW
USA
americanhistory.si.edu
For more information, contact NMAHRightsReproductions@si.edu
Record ID
pgd-1661960310849-1661962979307-2
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
date made
Late 20th Century
ID Number
1997.0279.03
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
1996
judge
Collins, Audrey
maker
Mary Chaney
ID Number
1997.0345.02
accession number
1997.0345
catalog number
1997.0345.02
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
1995
maker
Mary Chaney
ID Number
1997.0345.04
accession number
1997.0345
catalog number
1997.0345.04
Courtroom sketch depicting the El Monte Sweatshop case. Shows three female former slaves asking for justice at penalty phase. Judge shown is Judge Audrey Collins. On light board. Signed chaney, 1996.Currently not on view
Description
Courtroom sketch depicting the El Monte Sweatshop case. Shows three female former slaves asking for justice at penalty phase. Judge shown is Judge Audrey Collins. On light board. Signed chaney, 1996.
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
1996
judge
Collins, Audrey
maker
Mary Chaney
ID Number
1997.0345.01
accession number
1997.0345
catalog number
1997.0345.01
Courtroom sketch depicting El Monte Sweatshop Case. Shows eight accused slavers, all dressed in blue. August 21, 1995. On light board. Signed Chaney '95.Currently not on view
Description
Courtroom sketch depicting El Monte Sweatshop Case. Shows eight accused slavers, all dressed in blue. August 21, 1995. On light board. Signed Chaney '95.
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
1995
maker
Mary Chaney
ID Number
1997.0345.05
accession number
1997.0345
catalog number
1997.0345.05

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