Governor intervention in human trafficking case?

August 20, 2009

Forced labor, human trafficking, fraud, FLSA violation including unpaid minimum wage and overtime compensation - all charges against the Korean owned school, Ladera International School of Saipan (LISS). Huk Suk (Arnold) Kim is suing the school's owners, Yong Nam Park President and CEO and Sung Yun Anne Kim (Anne), Vice-President for $600,000.

The complaint alleges that Huk Suk Kim was lured to Saipan by his cousin, Anne who promised him a good salary at the school that was to open on the island. He entered Saipan as a tourist in December 2005 and worked without a labor contract for three days. He returned to Korea and then came back to Saipan on a tourist visa in July 2006. His tourist visa was extended until October 2006.

Apparently, the owners had Arnold fix his labor contract and papers on Saipan, not in Korea. They were notarized by an unknown notary and falsely stated that he was a teacher. He was actually a driver and "man-Friday", not a teacher.

The labor contract signed on September 14, 2006 was written in English a language that Kim could not read or understand. It stated that his pay would be $1200.00 per month for 40 hours per week and 1.5 per hour for overtime. He was paid a total of $900 for 21 months of work averaging 117 hours per week. Does the word slave come to mind?

In addition to watching the LISS summer camp program, Arnold was tasked with other duties. From the complaint:
He was tasked with shopping for the school, building maintenance, office documents, processing student visas and if a teacher was absent he was ordered to take over their class though he was not a teacher. He was also forced to massage Park for fifty minutes to an hour daily much against his will. Although Arnold was working these long hours he was not being paid and when he would confront Park or Anne about payment they would not only tell him he would be paid later but would also scold him for asking about money.
The complaint alleges that all was not well at LISS:
In addition to the long hours and lack of pay Park and Anne treated Arnold very poorly. They blamed him for every problem. If something went well it was because of Park's good work. If' not, it was Arnold's mistake. Many things were going wrong. Staff were not being paid on time, paychecks were bouncing, LISS changed principals five times while Arnold was there. Several teachers came to Saipan as tourists and then taught at the school until their visas ran out.
This is all very interesting to me. When in Saipan last year it was brought to my attention that similar, almost mirror practices were taking place at another private school in Saipan. (I turned over the information the federal officials.)

What does this say about the CNMI labor and immigration system? What does it say about the quality of private schools in the CNMI?

Again, this is not the only school where allegations have been made that paperwork is falsified or processed on Saipan rather than in Korea or China; teachers are not qualified or certified to teach; government officials in CNMI offices are involved in the processing of paperwork; tourist visas being changed to work visas; school employees are not allowed to leave.

I was told that at another school the owners are using students to work for free "in exchange for tuition" and not allowing them to leave their campus. That school also employs "teachers" who have little or no teaching experience.

From the Kim complaint:
He was kept in Saipan, working at LISS by taking advantage of family ties. He was kept at LISS with constant verbal abuse. He was constantly promised future benefits by Park and Anne. He was kept in Saipan without money to travel back to Korea. Arnold was brought to Saipan under false pretenses. He was not a teacher and did not claim to have teaching experience. The falsification of his employment history by Park and Anne and the falsified notarizations of Moon. His bank account at the Bank of Saipan, set up by Park and/or Anne was never used by Arnold, only by the Parks.
LISS is advertised as a secular private international school that was founded in 2006. The school is said to be able to serve up to 180 local students and boarding students from Asia or other locations. Hopefully, parents will start investigating the qualifications of the teachers and labor and human rights practices of the establishment.

Of particular interest is the allegation that Governor Fitial was involved in this case (emphasis added):
After three or four months on this schedule without pay Arnold told Park and Anne that he wanted to go back to Korea. They told him he could not because his Visa was still being processed and that he was not allowed by law to leave the Island. Their answer after several subsequent requests to leave was that they would not allow it and that he would be in trouble if he left before his visa was finished. They also told him that Park had obtained Arnold's position at LISS by way of intervention by the Governor and that he (Park) would lose face if Arnold left and that he had a responsibility to his family to avoid this.
Was the governor assisting LISS to process documents? Who in the CNMI Dept. of Labor approved the contract and processed his papers? What role did immigration play in this scheme, if any?

The LISS web-site features a photo of Governor Fitial and convicted felon Timothy Villagomez, the former Lt. Governor:
A Warm Welcome from the Governor of Saipan

Hafa adai, tirow, and warmest greetings!

Thank you for considering the islands of Saipan, Tinian or Rota in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in choosing an educational institution for your child.

As a commonwealth of the United States, our islands offer many advantages to families seeking a superior education for their child. Educational standards are equitable to U.S. national requirements, and English is one of the official languages of the islands. It is a secure and safe destination. Our islands are only 3-4 hours by air from most of Asia and offer a beautiful tropical location for families to enjoy when they visit their child. Saipan also has a sizable Asian population that will help your child continue their important cultural traditions, even while they are away from home.

We trust you will find our educational institutions ready and qualified to partner with you in ensuring the highest quality of education for your child. We welcome you and look forward to serving you in our islands.
The message is signed by both the governor and former lt. governor. It's followed by a message from the Marianas Visitor's Authority signed by Perry Tenorio and Jerry Tan.

In February 2008 LISS hosted a group of Korean investors described as "mostly from the educational field." Perry Tenorio lauded the visit, as this Saipan Tribune article states:
The group met with the Marianas Visitors Authority during their stay. MVA managing director Perry Tenorio extended his appreciation to Ladera International School of Saipan, the pioneers in the islands' edu-tourism market, for coordinating the familiarization tour. He added that the demand for overseas study is steadily growing and the MVA looks forward to working with LISS and its partnership in Korea to expand the edu-tourism market for the CNMI.

“We are grateful for the support we received from the government as well the private businesses we engaged in for this investor visit. We expect a few more investors to come in the next month and hope to receive the same treatment extended to this opportunity for the CNMI,” said LISS director Wayne Pangelinan.
A November 2007 Saipan Tribune article also indicates that there is a tie between LISS, the governor's office and MVA:
Northwest Missouri State University dean Dr. Max Ruhl and professor Dr. Barbara Crossland arrived Tuesday for a four-day visit to the Ladera International School.

LISS principal Yong Nam Park said they have made arrangements for Ruhl and Crossland to meet with Lt. Gov. Timothy Villagomez today at the Governor's Office. They plan to discuss further other school programs and scholarships available to students of the Commonwealth.

Ruhl and Crossland are also scheduled to meet with the managing director of the Marianas Visitors Authority, Perry Tenorio, on Friday.

Northwest Missouri State University and Missouri Academy are affiliates and offer cross-educational opportunities for talented students, particularly in the field of mathematics and science.

Dr. Cleo Samudzi, dean of Missouri Academy, visited with Gov. Ben R. Fitial last week.

“I learned of the special opportunities available to talented CNMI students and foreign students connected with the growing Ladera school. Ladera is increasing its student enrollment and establishing ties with Western Missouri State University and Northwest State University,” Fitial said in a speech Monday at the opening ceremony of the new Emmanuel College.
In January 2008 the Saipan Tribune announced that Wayne Pangelinan would be leaving the MVA as marketing manager to become the "director" of LISS. The LISS web-site lists him as principal, although it does not mention his educational experience.

Then there this Saipan Tribune article that detaills that the MVA was in Korea promtoing Saipan as an edu-tourist destination. From the article:
“Saipan is a close and safe U.S. destination for Koreans and other Asians to send their children for study abroad,” said MVA managing director Perry Tenorio. “It's easy for parents to visit their children while they receive a quality, U.S. curriculum-based education in a safe environment. It's an excellent and economical choice.”

MVA marketed their “Study Abroad in Saipan” campaign to nearly 10,000 participants during the fair, held at the Pacific Hall in COEX in Seoul, Korea on May 23-24, 2009. A large number of participants were parents. A representative from Ladera International School, Costa World Tour (a travel agent selling English Camp products), and World Ace (a study abroad agency) also helped to provide information on Saipan's private schools and English camps to those who visited the MVA booth.
The article mentions Ladera and other private schools.

The owners refuted the allegations. From the Marianas Variety:
Park said “the ravenous claims provide an exponential opportunity for those seeking a quick dime.”

He said it is “without delight that they face these challenges and have wasted time and money to counter the acts of individuals who wish to gain the expense of others.”

Park said it is easy to admit if the school is at fault, but hard to admit when you are not in fault.

“I believe that the justice system should take its course, and as the president of the corporation, I am determined to stand for the truth,” he said.
The CNMI Department of Commerce certifies the private schools in the CNMI.


Anonymous said...

From Somali Pirates to two Korean men massaging each other! When will the madness end Wendy? LOL!

Anonymous said...

Two Koreans not massaging each other. One made to massage another as a job duty right?

the teacher said...

This would be more effective to warn unsuspecting persons not to engage in anything with crooks and fraudsters by putting it in the local newspapers.

I hope the US get our mess of illegal foreign nationals operating here cleaned up?

Sustainable Educator said...

A scammer invokes the Governor's name to deceive a victim (an in-law family member) into continued slave labor.

This hardly constitutes “involvement” by the Governor in that slavery. A review of such slavery cases reveals that the abuse of spousal relatives in this fashion is a common theme.

Likewise, the Administration's support of an effort to grow the educational tourism industry to broaden and diversify our economy is hardly tantamount to participation in alleged illegal acts by a few bad apples.

Education on Saipan has the potential to be a clean, sustainable economic force, particularly with good, federal immigration control after the TPED. Regulation of the schools by the CNMI government is essential for them all to prosper. Otherwise, a “Saipan University” stigma will come to taint them all -- high school and college alike.

Who regulates secondary school education in the CNMI? PSS?

Thank you, Wendy, for telling what you know to the FBI, like the OAG did with the OPA tip concerning Tim Villagomez. Together we can make a difference!

Anonymous said...

PSS and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges regulates secondary education in the CNMI.

the teacher said...

The educational industry could be an integral part of revitalizing the Northern Marianas Islands and creating a respectable business to join tourism.

We should target accredited institutions, those providing specialized testing, ESL, technology, and aggressively market and cater to the thousands of international high school students in eastern and SE Asia whose parents could provide their children a US education in a safe, economical, and geographically closer location than the US mainland.

Anonymous said...

The advertisement using the Gov, mirrors this past "scam" that Killili just opened up and the Gov defended saying it was just a "draft" copy.Question, what all did this recent one say and how did it get out if it was a draft. It would be nice to see this last one and compare it to the schools. Also how much money did the Gov recieve for his "endorsement"

Unqualified teachers, Principals,and administrators, mirrors PSS past and present.

Converting tourist visa to work contract, has been going on for many years.
There is a fee for a "waiver" by the Gov. In all fairness though I do not know who actually signs the "waiver as I have not (or anybody else I know) gotten any signed "waiver" paper back only an approved labor contract.

Same goes for a "waiver" on the hiring cap. No approved "waiver" paper, only approval to process the contract.

It is true that among the Asian countries it is not uncommon for the relatives with money to take advantage of the have not's.(happens everyday here with the "local" families)

But I guess that you could probably say that about any nationality around the world.

Of the foreign nationalities involved in business' here,(and outside) Japan, China, Korea. China is the worse by far, as far as non payment and abuse, next is Korean.

Anonymous said...

Wendy, you should look into the parents of LISS students. Some are the who's who in CNMI Government. I would further investigate if these individuals actually pay for their children's tuition.

Anonymous said...

In regards to anon 3:03, it sure would be interesting to see if these have free tuition and also publish the family names.
But the problem is also in any student graduates, how much credibility would a diploma from this place have elsewhere?
How much are the students actually taught and at what level of teachings is their knowledge. If these are not accredited teachers (no matter from where they are accredited) this puts the students at a very bad disadvantage if their knowledge is below other schools and wasting time and money.
It will be an embarrassment later.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone give me a good reason why the Department of commerce is in the business of certifying private schools in the CNMI? It would be prudent for someone in the certification process to do some due diligence as this is not the first time that the CNMI has been duped by a foreign investor promoting the CNMI as an ideal location for foreign students to study abroad.Does anyone in the government every learn from past mistakes!

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:58, awhile back an article in the Guam PDN ended with this statement,"The reason while Chamorro people will never progress and get ahead is that unlike other nationalities, the Chomorro people never seem to learn from their mistakes" (Quoted from Guam PDN article)

Anonymous said...

"Apparently, the owners had Arnold fix his labor contract and papers on Saipan, not in Korea. They were notarized by an unknown notary and falsely stated that he was a teacher."

The man participated in immigration fraud. He didn't know he wasn't a teacher? Give me a break. If allegations against the school are correct, then they should be shut down. But my heart does not bleed for the Korean who knowingly broke the law. I'm really tired of being told I should pity crooks. He was "treated poorly" by the school? GOOD! He committed a crime.

captain said...

I may be wrong, but this person does not understand English as was stated.
so he would not know what the contract read. He would not understand he was contracted as a teacher.

Now on the other side of this, what language are they teaching classes, if it is a Korean language class, there is some substance to this, but is this school teaching in the respective language of the students?
Aren't, stated, that there are "local' student enrolled in this "school"?
This does not "fly" either.

the teacher said...

Many ESL schools in Korea don't care if you are certified or not and the primary concern is that you are a native speaker.

That is not true of the fine international schools there.

The CNMI should never get involved in education scams unless it is to deny their licence, close them down, or prosecute the fraudsters.

We need a broad range of educational experience to make this type determination. Our Dept. of Commerce should not be expected to have this ability.

Anonymous said...

the guy did not know english-he was mislead-from all newspaper articles I read and news through the island grapevine- from reliable sources the place is questionable-my friend used to work there (recently) -friend said everytime payday came around the teachers are wondering if they are gonna get paid or not cuz many times their checks bounced or they get paid late -somebody should investigate-i don't know why the teachers dont complain? maybe they are afraid?

Anonymous said...

there is more than ONE lawsuit against this school filed by people who were mistreated-all of them could not speak,read or write english well enough to understand what was happening-and to comment "He was "treated poorly" by the school? GOOD! He committed a crime." is absolutely shameful!obviously some people do not understand what it is like to be in a foreign country, not understand the language, the laws, the system AND be intimidated by people who you thought were going to help you start a new life. I hope someone really looks into this so called school and puts a stop to this abuse.By the way-I think they have a name for this-is it human trafficking? Not sure but it seems to fit the bill with this school.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments by readers. They are all pretty much true. I know, through brothers in Saipan, some of the people in this case and some of the more serious problems that have occurred.


The plaintiff was made to massage the president of the school for between 50 minutes and an hour each day.

Another plaintiff has a complaint at the Department of Labor for back wages. He was also a victim of human trafficking at the school. This complaint is serious but has never been reported in the news.

The Marianas Variety appears to be in league with the school by publishing an article that defended the school. The Variety did nothing to try to find evidence. It did not even go to the federal court for information. Shame on them.

The Tribune printed what was put into federal court, which is at least the normal practice for federal court cases.

Both of these two men have had death threats brought against them. Presently, I heard that a gang of up to three local men have been hired by "someone" to find them. One of the gang, I was told, took a copy of the other complaintant's passport to a Korean owned shop. He claimed to be a detective and told the shop people that they must answer his questions. When asked if he had identification, he left. There are only two places to get a copy of this passport: The Dept. of Labor and... you can probably guess where else.

The plaintiff in the article that made the papers and the other man are both afraid for their lives. Another man, who has helped them, has also been visited by the gang at his home but did not go outside to meet them.

When the second complainant quit his job, the school sent people out scouring the island in search of him, going to all known friends and acquaintances and driving around areas where they thought he might be found.

People who would like to help the plaintiffs are afraid to do so. The school appears to have a long reach.

The school is not regulated by WASC and has not been accredited, although it did write on its Korean website that it was.

The plaintiff was kept in Saipan partly by being told that he could not leave the island because his visa had not been completed. And now that he is in Korea, he is told that he will not be able to return or he will be arrested when he enters the CNMI.

The present director (principal) is a high school graduate.

Both men's affidavits showed that they had the qualifications for the jobs they were hired to do. Neither actually held the jobs shown on the affidavits. Neither can understand their contracts well enough anyway. And they claim to have signed either when the contracts and affidavits were blank or that they were asked to sign without having a chance to read them.

Neither received copies of their contracts or affidavits.

The Governor continues to allow his face and message to be on the school's website.

Both were basically prisoners at the school, allowed to go out for shopping for the school or to take children somewhere. They had no vacation days, including weekends. Their free time was from about midnight until six in the morning.

Kilili asked last week that human trafficking violations be dealt with severely. This is a case that is extremely serious and should be looked into carefully before someone gets hurt, probably seriously hurt.

Wendy said...

Commenter at 10:37 I hope you give this information to the US DOJ. I know another school in Saipan with mirror complaints. What's happening? Lack of regulation? Officials in government offices assisting criminals?

Anonymous said...

I am an ex-teacher in the Ladera International School of Saipan. I knew Arnold for awhile while I was there.

Arnold sacrificed all of his time for the school from early in the morning to late at night. It was his job to watch the dormitory kids go to bed at night and to wake them up to get ready for school. When LISS had guests or new students come from Korea, it was his job to go to the airport to pick them up at two or three o’clock in the morning. He worked as caretaker for the dormitory students, and when the children had troubles, he settled the conflicts by talking to them. He had to go shopping for what the school needed, and he had to pay various bills. When CUC did not provide water to the school, he had to go to the laundromat with a truck full of laundry of the dorm kids. He had to take care of the school dogs, and when the said dogs died, he tearfully had to dig a hole to bury them. Owners liked to get puppies often, but when dogs became sick or hurt, they did not want to spend a penny for a vet.

Arnold was instructing Taekwondo as a contribution to local kids after school. LISS hired local people and Korean tourists to tutor for dorm students at night. When those local tutors did not show up, Arnold substituted (babysat) the classes for Korean kids. Arnold’s English was very limited. Not only weekdays, but especially on weekends, he had to work harder by taking dorm kids out of school to experience diving, golfing, camping in Managaha and swimming in hotel pools. He had absolutely no days off. He was everything for the school. However, he was often yelled at and received abuse by his cousin, Anne Kim, and her husband, the owners. The owners took advantage of the family ties. They promised to pay Arnold later, but did not. When Arnold went back to Korea, he did not have any money to pay for his air flight. I guess he borrowed money from his friends.

There were, and probably are still now, tourists working in the school as dorm workers and night time tutors. Those tutors teach Korean Mathematics and “English” in Korean. When I was there, tourist workers said that LISS recruited these people for jobs through the internet in Korea. When their three month’s tourist status expires, they have to go to Guam a day so they can come back to work another three months. Then, they go back to Korea. Of all the tourists I knew, all of their last month’s salaries were not paid. The owners promised to send checks to Korea, but they never did. They asked to get the last salary, but owners ignored them. Then, they recruit new Koreans who are caught by the website advertisement. Of course, they do not know what kind of school LISS is. New innocent people come with an ambition to have an overseas work experience.

Anonymous said...


The school is not a healthy educational environment. In one and half years of the first school year, they had four principals. Now, they have the fifth who has a high school diploma. Many teachers who have worked there had non-educational majors, and many of them did not even have a college degree. I know from reliable sources that once 18 year old was a classroom teacher and 14 year old local kid was making money by tutoring at night.

The school owners did not want to spend money to buy teaching materials. At least, classroom teachers had textbooks, but did not have enough teacher’s guides or workbooks. The kids had to share textbooks. We did not have teaching aids for Mathematics and History and so on. There were absolutely no Science materials, and teachers who wanted to give hands on experience to students had to bring materials from home.

They brought rich Korean kids to fill up the classes, especially in Korea’s long vacation periods. It was hard to teach both English native and ESL students at the same time, especially when ESL students were the majority in the class and didn’t understand much English. This caused serious delay in the subject study for regular students. The owners did not show any consideration to the quality of education, but they simply wanted to earn money from wealthy Korean students.

Teachers received paychecks once in a month, and pay was often delayed with silly excuses like sending money from Korea takes time and so on. Last year, there was a time when the checks of every teacher bounced.

The school did not care about teachers. There was no health insurance. It had to be worked out among the teachers, but there were not enough percent of teachers who wanted to pay to be able to get it.

The present director/principal talked about, “Education Business.” In LISS, “education” equals “business.”

Last year, the teachers were supposed to work for WASC accreditation, but they could not be accredited. Anyway, LISS put on the Korean website that they were accredited by WASC. This advertisement helps innocent Korean parents to determine to send their kids to LISS, I guess.

To avoid being called, “a Korean School”, LISS wanted to increase the number of local students. They offered a scholarship that local kids did not have to pay tuition. Also, they had a “one for two” tuition program that allowed local parents who had two kids just to pay for one kid’s tuition. The school’s money comes from the Koreans. Free private education sounds good, but the education of the local kids is sacrificed to have short-term Korean students bring in money.

One of the writers in Marianas Variety has the same family name as LISS’ director/principal. Family ties are strong in this island, and you can guess that even newspaper articles are not written fairly. The article in that paper was written mostly by the president of the school anyway

Anonymous said...

As another former educator of LISS I can testify to the above comments. Sadly, from what I hear, nothing much has changed at the school. I'm told that teachers fear the once a month payroll distribution because there always seems to be an issue as to why checks can't be distributed on time. I remember that we were told that the Korean kids were our bread and butter and we were to do whatever it took to make them happy so the rich parents would keep sending them to the school. I remember many of the Korean kids were miserable because they have to attend classes, after school programs and night tutoring until almost 10 pm every night. They were so tired they could hardly even keep their eyes open during the day in class! I know this is still a practice. The owners used the excuse that this is standard practice in Korea! It was terrible for the kids because they were too tired to even absorb any of the lesson during the day! Many of them just slept all day and we had to keep waking them up! Then they would almost cry when we gave them required homework because they said with all the after school requirements they had there was no time to do homework. If we did not give homework the teachers would get in trouble. I remember many of the kids hating the school but their parents were told that they were having a great time and loved it. I also remember hearing about the 18 year old high school kid hired as a classroom teacher. I was happy to leave that place and feel for the teachers that are now working there.

Vince H. said...
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Wendy said...
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