by Andrew Walden
Released in court hearings before Chief United States District Judge Susan Oki Mollway January 30, 2009, transcripts of tape recorded conversations between alleged Pali Golf Course shooter Ethan 'Malu' Motta and a confidential informant reveal several previously unknown details of Motta’s activities.
The January, 2004, golf course shootings allegedly resulted from two gangs fighting over who would provide so-called “security” for illegal gambling operations at several O`ahu locations. But the transcript reveals Motta’s reach goes far beyond gambling parlors. In one particularly interesting exchange Motta explains, “I need one governor, ah, so he can pardon me.”* Reading further, it becomes clear who the alleged underworld killer is nominating for the State’s top office.
The transcripts show two men giving callers directions to a $100-a-ticket fundraiser held October 30, 2004 for Motta’s legal defense expenses at Hilo’s Nani Mau Gardens—an event Motta was not able to personally attend due to bail restrictions. Others describe the event after returning. In the transcript of the recording, (lines 440-446) Motta (identified in the transcripts as ‘EM’) has the following exchange with a confidential informant wearing a hidden recording device:
EM: Someone got to win governor that we know, huh? My best friend is an emcee at, he on tonight, he’s on the mic…(unintelligible) ….Hawaiian braddah.
Informant: Yeah, yeah, you gotta be pushing that.
EM: David, they grooming him to be Governor. That’s my best friend, bah. They sign the work tomorrow. He could be governor in 20 years from now. Not tomorrow, you know.
The fundraiser, said to be attended by as many as 700-1000 people, was promoted with tickets which indicated the event was hosted by “Billy K, live and direct.” “Billy K” is Hawai`i County Mayor, Democrat Billy Kenoi.
In a tape recorded interview, February 21, 2008, Kenoi admitted to this reporter that he was the “Billy K” named on the tickets. He claimed that his name was put there without his permission. Kenoi also claimed that someone else MC-ed the event. But he admitted to being present and taking the stage saying: “People had asked me to come up and share a few words and I did.” Of his relationship with Motta, Kenoi admitted, “We had become friends….”
At the time he spoke at Motta’s fundraiser, Kenoi was an executive assistant to Hawai`i County Mayor Harry Kim. According to his campaign website Kenoi “Coordinated the Hawaii Island Meth. Initiative for Hawaii County from 2001-2007.”
In spite of his efforts on behalf of the then-admitted Pali shooter (Motta has since retracted his guilty plea), media coverage of the connection between the alleged mafia killer and the mayoral candidate was almost non-existent. Ironically, much greater attention focused on Kenoi’s alleged barstool-throwing assault of US Army soldier and Puna resident Josh Grabel and his wife Latika on April 9, 2004 at Hilo’s disreputable Shooters Bar and Grill.
But there was more to the barstool story than a politician trying to explain away an embarrassing episode. As Hawai`i Free Press reported last September, there are connections between Motta’s codefendants in a 2002 Hilo gambling case and the incident at Shooters Bar and Grill.
The shootings were not Motta’s first involvement in illegal gambling or “security”. Two of the Shooters “security” personnel on duty when Kenoi allegedly attacked the Grabels were co-defendants in a 2002 gambling case with Ethan Malu Motta. Thrown out on a technicality, the 2002 charges stemming from a police raid at Reyn’s Garage. After the Pali shootings, the charges were reinstated March 5, 2004 in Hilo’s Third Circuit Court. The two--James Macomber and Sam Kamahele--were working April 9, 2004 as “security” personnel at Shooters when Kenoi allegedly assaulted Josh and Latika Grabel.
Six months later, Kenoi, the Mayor’s point man in the war on methamphetamines, would appear on stage before hundreds of people at the Nani Mau Gardens fundraiser for Motta.
On November 4, 2008, Kenoi was elected mayor in a runoff contest with another Democrat, PASH plaintiff and outgoing council member Angel Pilago.
There are other questions raised by the transcript.
In addition to the reference to Motta’s “best friend”, the transcript (lines 623-628) refers to a Kona police officer. Here is the exchange:
Unidentified male: Brah you know you was gonna come through. Brah you had so much (unintelligible), was pulling off all DEA, all the FBI. I was trippin’ brah. Gay, gay. My brother in law Gay, his uncle Stanley Hananio (phonetic spelling) from Kona, hey Stanley what you doing over here? Oh da kine, you know, I don’t know what for tell you, but…
Informant: Oh he staying here.
Unidentified male: Oh yeah, he one cop from Kona.
The spelling of “Hananio” is phonetic and incorrect, but a quick search gives clues to anyone who wishes to find out.
Another exchange (lines 193-212) apparently is a reference to a fight Motta was involved in at an August, 2004 Keaukaha wedding reception. As a result his participation in the fight, Motta’s bail was revoked and he was placed under house arrest. The wedding discussion includes derogatory comments about “BJ” described in the transcript as a “f***ing zero” “involved in that Ultimate Fighting stuff….”
The transcript has many other interesting details including references to Maui and Kauai guys, a description of gambling operations on Oahu before, during and after the gang conflict which culminated in the Pali shootings, and on pages 9-11 a description of the shootings themselves.
Unclear is Motta’s meaning in line 87 when he says “F*** pull off the judge….” And an unidentified male saying (line 623): “Brah you know you was gonna come through. Brah you had so much (unintelligible), was pulling off all DEA, all the FBI. I was trippin’ brah.”
*Governors cannot pardon federal convicts, but nobody ever said Mafiosi were smart.