August 8, 2022

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Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! Former state Sen. J. Kalani English...

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Former state Sen. J. Kalani English and former state Rep. Ty J.K. Cullen could lose half of their state pensions if convicted of federal bribery charges under a new law — and a review of Cullen’s voting record and introduction of bills this legislative session is now underway.
English’s attorney said he will plead guilty. Cullen resigned Tuesday, shortly before indictments were announced.
House Speaker Scott Saiki told reporters Wednesday that the House has initiated a review of Cullen’s votes and introduction of bills since the session started in January. “We’re trying to piece things together,” Saiki said.
Senate President Ronald Kouchi made no mention of a review of English’s voting and bill introduction records. English (D, Molokai-Lanai-East Maui), abruptly resigned in April, citing complication from COVID-19.
But Kouchi (D, Kauai-Niihau) said in a statement that the accusations against English “were surprising and unfortunate and casts a pall over the Legislature and the work that we are trying to accomplish for the people of Hawaii. We must rededicate
ourselves and work to rebuild the public’s trust in government.”
Act 84, signed by Gov. David Ige last year, would allow a court to order the forfeiture of “one-half of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) benefits of an ERS member, former member, or retirant upon conviction of the individual for a felony” related to their state or county employment.
Saiki called the charges against Cullen (D, Waipahu-­Royal Kunia-Makakilo) and English “the most egregious” allegations a member of the Legislature has faced during Saiki’s time at the Capitol, which has spanned 28 years.
“This is really bad,” Saiki said. “This is public corruption. … I hope it’s uncommon. I would hope that it’s uncommon.”
But the latest charges follow a growing list of public officials who have been recently indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice and — in the case of disgraced former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his ex-wife, former Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha — sent to federal prison.
They were convicted and sentenced in 2020 — along with two former Honolulu Police Department officers — for a variety of crimes, including bilking Katherine’s grandmother and framing Katherine’s uncle for a mail box theft he did not commit.
Then on Jan. 12, former city Managing Director Roy Amemiya, former Corporation Counsel Donna Leong and former Honolulu Police Commission Chairman Max Sword turned themselves into the FBI after their attorneys were notified they would be arrested for allegedly conspiring to divert $250,000 in government funds in a retirement settlement to Louis Kealoha and then conceal the scheme.
In between — in March 2020 — federal charges were filed against five former and then-current employees of the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting for allegedly accepting bribes to complete official city business.
Charged were:
>> William Wong, an
architect who was accused of devising the pay-to-play scheme, including helping one of the accused employees, Kanani Padeken conceal information.
>> Wayne Inouye, of Honolulu, a former DPP building plans examiner.
>> Jocelyn Godoy, of Pearl City, who worked at DPP’s Data Access and Imaging Branch.
>> Jason Dadez, of Honolulu, a DPP building inspector.
>> Jennie Javonillo, of Waipahu, a former DPP building plans examiner.
>> Kanani Padeken, of Kaaawa, a DPP building plans examiner.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday accused English — former Senate majority leader — and Cullen — former vice chairman of the House Committee on Finance — with taking thousands of dollars in bribes to promote and kill legislation related to cesspool and wastewater policy to benefit a Hawaii industrial services company and its affiliated businesses.
It was hardly English’s first time getting caught behaving improperly as a state senator.
In 2005, English agreed to pay $1,000 to the state after taking free Hawaii Air Ambulance flights and accepting state-funded air coupons for interisland trips.
English failed to reimburse the state Senate in 2002 for at least two flight coupons. He also did not report the free flights on state ethics gift disclosure forms.
In the settlement, English admitted he took an unspecified number of flights between Oahu and Maui on Hawaii Air Ambulance. But he did not admit to any “willful misconduct” or “violation of statute.”
Also, English’s 1988 guilty plea to a third-degree felony cocaine possession later ran afoul of 2016 state Health Department rules regarding application for a state license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary. English was part of a company applying for a license, but rules prohibited company members from having any felony convictions.
Regarding the latest and more serious public charges against English, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said in a statement: “The news about Kalani English is both unexpected and deeply disappointing. I am most concerned about the damage it is doing to public trust. I hope the people of Maui County use this offense as a motivation to get more involved in government rather than an excuse for bitterness or apathy.”
Despite federal investigators’ ongoing focus on public corruption, it’s the indictments of English and Cullen that have shocked lawmakers, especially in statements they made Wednesday — during an election year.
Former First Lady Vicky Cayetano, who is running for governor, said in a statement:
“The latest indictments of former Senator English and Representative Cullen for bribery reflects a cesspool of a different sort — the cesspool of government corruption. Sadly, these latest indictments are not unusual in Hawaii. They follow the criminal convictions of City Council member Andy Mirikitani, Representative Rod Tam, and City Council member Rene Mansho, Chief Louis Kealoha and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katherine Kealoha. They trail the indictments of Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, Deputy
Managing Director Roy Ame­miya and Police Commissioner Max Sword.
“Enough is enough. Many of those in power appear to have forgotten that public service is an honor and sacred trust.”
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is also running for governor, said: “We need elected leaders we can trust, who care about people. That has to be the standard for everyone who serves.”
State Rep. Sylvia Luke, (D, Punchbowl-Pauoa-Nuuanu), is running for lieutenant governor and said in a statement: “I share the feelings of shock and betrayal that are reverberating throughout our islands. … All of us who run for public office are honor-bound to serve the public’s interest above our own.
“These charges call into question the integrity of our entire legislative process. The Hawai‘i State Legislature must act quickly to identify and enact stronger protections against any and all illegal and unethical behavior.”
In his own statement before Wednesday’s press conference, Speaker Saiki, (D, Downtown-Kakaako-McCully), said, “Like the general public, I was shocked and in disbelief. For those of who were born and raised in Hawaii, we want to believe that these things only happen on the mainland. Not in Hawaii. … In order for our legislative process to function, the public must trust government.”

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