by Andrew Walden
House Finance Committee Chair, Rep Sylvia Luke, identified the Hawaii DoE as ‘liars’ when they claimed an $868M maintenance backlog in Senate hearings late last year after having claimed ‘only’ $293M in 2017.
A DoE news release from November, 2018, claims a Repair and Maintenance backlog of 3,800 projects. According to the news release, the Department of Education, Facilities Maintenance Branch “oversees 4,425 buildings and more than 20 million square feet of space across 256 campuses statewide with a fiscal 2018 facilities budget of $274 million.”
One might expect top Facilities Maintenance Branch administrators to be quite busy—but a 2018 internal DoE Audit of FMB rates the department’s Equipment and Fleet Maintenance as ‘Marginal’.
Don’t get the wrong idea. DoE employees aren’t lazy bums. According to reports issued today by the Hawaii State ethics commission, they are working very hard on several very important construction projects—but not for the DoE. As a result the Ethics Commission is imposing $15,250 in fines.
Scot Sueoka, the General Maintenance and Services Superintendent has been busy building himself a new house in Pauoa. Sueoka earlier built himself a 5-unit apartment building in Kailua. All with lots of help from other FMB employees.
Another FMB Administrator, William Gebhardt, expanded his home and built himself a boat garage—also with plenty of FMB helpers.
And the FMB Chief, Francis Cheung, had FMB employees make him cabinets and help him move house.
Of course, they all claim this was not done on state time—but in Sueoka’s case an email trail shows him conducting five years of rental business from a state computer during state hours.
Here are some highlights quoted from the State Ethics Commission reports:
Francis Cheung Administrator of Facilities Maint Branch
Respondent Cheung directly supervises five employees; several of those subordinate employees in turn supervise other employees, such that Respondent Cheung has supervisory authority over approximately 200 DOE employees who work for FMB….
Around 2016, Respondent Cheung paid a subordinate FMB employee approximately $600 to help Respondent Cheung move from his home in Kapolei to a new residence in Honolulu.
Respondent Cheung also asked other subordinate FMB employees to perform services for Respondent Cheung for personal projects. Around 2016, Respondent Cheung requested a subordinate cabinet-maker to construct a small cabinet (roughly 14” x 14” by 10”) for Respondent Cheung’s wife. Respondent Cheung reimbursed the cabinet-maker approximately $50 for materials; Respondent Cheung contends that he did not pay the cabinet-maker for labor but did treat the employee to lunch. Respondent Cheung contends that he directed the cabinet-maker not to do this work on state time or using state equipment. Also, several years ago, Respondent Cheung asked another subordinate cabinet-maker to use state equipment to cut a piece of wood for a family member’s personal project….
Respondent Cheung to pay an administrative penalty of $750.00 to the State of Hawai‘i.
William Gebhardt — Engineer of Repair & Maintenance Operations Section (under Cheung)
Respondent Gebhardt directly supervises five employees; several of those subordinate employees in turn supervise other employees, such that Respondent Gebhardt has supervisory authority over approximately 200 DOE employees who work for FMB.
Respondent Gebhardt has done several renovation/construction projects on his personal residence over the last few years. Around 2016, he completed an extension to his residence; he built a garage for his boat; and he poured a concrete driveway.
For each of these three construction projects, Respondent Gebhardt accepted free labor from subordinate FMB employees. On each of the three projects, he accepted one or two days’ free labor from his direct subordinate, the FMB General Maintenance and Services Superintendent. On the concrete driveway project, he accepted free labor from a subordinate mason. On the extension project, he accepted free labor from two subordinate carpenters; one of those carpenters provided Respondent Gebhardt with one or two days’ free labor on the garage project as well. Respondent Gebhardt states that he and this carpenter are friends.
Respondent Gebhardt offered to pay each of these subordinate employees for their time, but they declined payment.
Respondent Gebhardt also paid a subordinate FMB electrician approximately $200 to $300 to work on the extension project.
Respondent Gebhardt also accepted free labor from subordinate FMB employees on home renovation projects in 2005, 2006, and 2012.
Respondent Gebhardt to pay an administrative penalty of $3,500 to the State of Hawai‘i….
Scot Sueoka — Gen Maint & Svcs Support (under Gebhardt)
As the General Maintenance and Services Superintendent, Respondent Sueoka directly supervises six supervisors; those six subordinate employees in turn supervise other employees, such that Respondent Sueoka has supervisory authority over approximately 200 DOE employees who work for FMB.
Beginning around 2013, Respondent Sueoka began the permitting process, and then the construction work itself, on an investment property he had purchased in the Kailua neighborhood of O‘ahu (hereinafter, “the Kailua property”). Over the course of several years, he worked to renovate the Kailua property into a five-unit apartment building; he has never resided on this property, but instead rents these units for income.
QUESTION: Is this a 'monster house'?
Respondent Sueoka paid four subordinate DOE employees to work for him on the Kailua property. Respondent Sueoka paid a DOE electrician to work on the Kailua property approximately ten times, and he paid three DOE masons to work on the Kailua property approximately four to six times each. Each subordinate employee was paid a total of over $1,000. Respondent Sueoka maintains that neither he nor any of these subordinate employees performed this work on state time.
Respondent Sueoka also accepted roughly twenty days’ worth of free labor on the Kailua property, valued at several thousand dollars, from a fifth subordinate DOE employee. Respondent Sueoka states that he and this subordinate employee are friends.
Beginning around 2016, Respondent Sueoka began the permitting process, and then the construction work itself, on his personal residence in the Pauoa neighborhood of O‘ahu (hereinafter, “the Pauoa property”). That personal residence is still under construction.
Respondent Sueoka paid four subordinate employees to work for him on the Pauoa property. Respondent Sueoka paid a DOE electrician to work on the Pauoa property approximately ten times, he paid two DOE masons to work on the property approximately four times each, and he paid a DOE laborer to work on the property approximately twenty times. Each subordinate employee was paid a total of over $1,000. Respondent Sueoka maintains that neither he nor any of these subordinate employees performed this work on state time.
Respondent Sueoka also accepted roughly twenty days’ worth of free labor on the Pauoa property, valued at several thousand dollars, from a subordinate DOE employee. Once again, Respondent Sueoka states that he and this subordinate employee are friends.
Respondent Sueoka also accepted roughly two days’ worth of free labor on the Pauoa property from another subordinate DOE employee.
On more than fifty occasions from 2013 to 2018, Respondent Sueoka used his state computer and state e-mail address to conduct business for his rental property and personal property. These e-mails included correspondence to and from prospective tenants, correspondence relating to damages and repairs to the rental property, and requests for quotes on construction materials to prospective vendors. Some of these e-mail messages were sent on state time.
Respondent Sueoka to pay an administrative penalty of $11,000 to the State of Hawai‘i….
LINK: Ethics 2019 DoE Investigations
Jan 2018: Equipment and Fleet Maintenance Follow-Up Review Audit (Rating ‘Marginal’)
Dec, 2018: Ethics: DLNR Manager Steals Equipment, Funnels Money to Contractor
April, 2019: Ethics: DOBOR Kauai Employee Quickly Begins Taking Stuff
CB: A DoE facilities manager was fined for using agency employees to do work on his home and another property.
HNN: High ranking DOE supervisors fined thousands for ethics violations
SA: Hawaii public school facilities officials fined for ethics violations