When Alan Lara touched down in American Samoa, he was looking for a fresh start. Bluesky Communications, a subsidiary of Miami-based eLandia, had agreed to pay the Mexican engineer and his fiancée to move to the tiny U.S. territory from their home in Guatemala. But months later Lara was abruptly fired, and he says the company stripped him and his girlfriend of their apartment, car, and cell phones. Suddenly, American Samoa transformed from a tropical paradise into a prison cell.
"We are desperate," Lara says, speaking from Pago Pago, the territory's capital. "We are broke. This is a small island, and they are making it very uncomfortable for us here. We want to leave."
Elandia Group -- an international telecom corporation formerly financed by Ponzi-schemer Allen Stanford's bank -- did not respond to requests for comment. Pulele'iite Tufele, a Bluesky exec named in Lara's suit, says his ex-employee's claims are "totally false." He says Lara was fired for "not performing up to his set responsibilities."
Lara's South Pacific sojourn started when Bluesky CEO Adolfo Montenegro promised Lara a $40,000 salary. Lara's fiancée, Veronica Albizures, was allowed to immigrate as well thanks to the sponsorship of Tufele. He's the Robert Kennedy Jr. of American Samoa: a businessman, a member of the House of Representatives, and the son of its first lieutenant governor.
Lara did well and was promoted. In March of 2011, however, a new supervisor arrived. He handed Lara a manual belonging to Digicell, a competitor. Then, Lara claims, the supervisor told him to secretly copy it. "It was totally unethical," he says. "So I refused."
Two months later, Lara says, he was demoted. Then he discovered that his girlfriend's visa wasn't as advertised. Instead of allowing her to start her own business, Tufele had sponsored her only to live in his house and work as his domestic servant.
Finally, two days before Christmas, Tufele told Lara that he was fired. He said that Lara and his fiancée had three weeks to leave the country. When Lara sued Tufele and Bluesky for wrongful termination, the company instantly cut off his cell phone and Internet, and took away his car.
The couple is now in a strange limbo: jobless, broke, and awaiting trial on the wrongful termination suit and another suit against Tufele for the immigration deception.
"We think they should pay us what they owe," Lara says. "We really just want to go home."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.