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, the company abruptly fired Lara and stripped him and his girlfriend of their apartment, car, and cell phones, he says. 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 did not respond to requests for comment. Pulele'iite Tufele, a Bluesky exec named in Lara's suit, says his 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, he was demoted. Then he discovered 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."