This is the conclusion of a two-part story. The Brookings man who is sharing his account asked The Pilot to hide his identity and refer to him only as “M.”
It has been two years since his abduction at the hands of a human trafficker. “M,” formerly a chef living in Thailand, has worked virtually around the clock at a Lake Oswego, Oregon restaurant. He has endured grueling 14-hour shifts, with no rest and little or no pay.
His captor, once the owner of the restaurant, has enslaved two other Thai natives after luring the three of them to America with promises of large salaries and a lavish lifestyle.
Staring at the ceiling of his bare room, “M” hopelessly pictures the faces of his family and the girl he was about to marry. He wonders if he will ever see them again.
The trafficker now has summoned “M” to his office. In the man’s hand is the Thai’s passport. It was one of the documents the owner had claimed to have destroyed 18 months earlier to ensure his captives feared fear being reported to U.S. authorities as illegal aliens.
“I need for you to get a driver’s license to make some deliveries for me,” said the man. “You will need this to prove who you are.”
He eyed “M” carefully before tossing the passport on the table. “Go, now! Get your license and bring this back to me immediately.”
“M” gathered up his passport and was escorted to the Department of Motor Vehicles by his boss’s dutiful wife.
Returning to the restaurant, “M” quickly stashed his passport. What he didn’t know was that his visa had expired, and his captor was secretly dreading an Immigration and Customs Enforcement visit.
Eventually, one of the other captors at the restaurant escaped in broad daylight to take his chances as an illegal alien. A few months later, he contacted “M” as “M” was making deliveries for his trafficker.
“I am working at another Thai restaurant across town,” his friend reported. “It is so much better. Better pay, better working conditions, and most of all I am treated with respect.
“You can leave with me now!” he told “M.”
So, abandoning his delivery vehicle in an abandoned parking lot, “M” bolted with his friend for a new job, a new life.
As months went by, things improved for “M” in every way. He was happily employed at a different restaurant with his friend, and had begun saving money to return to Thailand.
He even traveled home to visit his parents and marry his fiancé, although he was careful to conceal the details of what he had endured, given his mother’s failing health. “I didn’t want to burden her, it would serve no purpose,” he said.
Yet once back at his job, he was stunned one day when his former captor’s wife walked into the restaurant where “M” worked. Ducking out of sight, he alerted his co-worker.
If discovered, they feared, the trafficker would make their lives difficult with their new employer and the immigration authorities. After all, who would believe them in a land of strangers?
What they couldn’t know was the FBI recently had raided his captor’s business, where he was arrested and charged with human trafficking. His wife had been charged, too, but had been offered a lighter sentence for her cooperation in the probe.
In that raid, the FBI found the documents that had been stolen from “M” and suspected he might be working for a competing Thai restaurant … which is how they located him.
After extensive questioning, the FBI notified the two Thais’ current employer, asking if he knew of a restaurant job outside the Portland metro area in a move to protect “M” from potential retribution.
Indeed he did - a restaurant in Brookings.
With the FBI’s help, as well as a trafficking victims’ assistance program, “M” and his co-worker relocated here, where they found employment and were put in touch with the Curry County Oasis Shelter Home.
Executive director Lea Sevey referred “M” to case worker Mellanie Caldera, whose job it is to help victims of human trafficking transition to a life of freedom.
Today, “M” has been reunited with his wife and they now have a family. He continues to work at the Brookings restaurant that hired him, where he’s a master chef.
“M” and I are talking in a Brookings restaurant together with Caldera and, by phone, a translator. In his native Thai, “M” says to the translator, “Tell them thank you for me ... Thank everybody that helped me obtain my freedom!” He says he can’t say enough about the kindness of the Oasis Shelter Home’s staff. “They are my angels!”
As for the human trafficker, Caldera says, “He was convicted of his crimes and is currently serving a long sentence.”
If you, or someone you suspect, is being trafficked either sexually or by forced labor, call 1-888-373-7888, text 233733, or call locally 541- 247-7600.