Resolution of Investigation 2014-1 State Employees’ Acceptance of Free Golf
Hawaii State Ethics Commission, September 29, 2014
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) investigated a number of state employees for accepting golf from contractors, consultants, and/or vendors that had contracts or other business relationships with the State of Hawaii. The golf in question included both charity golf tournaments and recreational rounds of golf. The Commission also examined whether the employees failed to report the golf that they appeared to have accepted on gifts disclosure statements. As part of its investigation, the Commission reviewed records from certain golf tournaments and from businesses that appeared to have paid for the employees’ golf. The Commission also interviewed employees, golf tournament organizers, and representatives of the businesses. Based on the information gathered through its investigation, including information provided by the employees, the Commission believed that there was sufficient evidence to support formal ethics charges against certain employees for violations of the State Ethics Code, Chapter 84, Hawaii Revised Statutes (“HRS”), relating to their acceptance of the free golf and, in certain instances, their failure to report the golf as a gift.
Based on the totality of the facts and circumstances, the Commission believed that it was appropriate and in the public interest to resolve part of its investigation without issuing formal charges against 21 employees. As part of the resolution, these employees paid an administrative penalty to the State of Hawaii and agreed that the Commission could issue a public document describing their alleged misconduct. The Commission emphasizes that it has not made any findings or conclusions that any of these 21 employees, in fact, violated the State Ethics Code. Such findings and conclusions would be rendered following an administrative hearing, which has not been held. See HRS section 84-31. Instead, this “Resolution of Investigation” is being issued pursuant to the Commission’s agreement with, and pertains only to, those 21 employees (hereinafter referred to as the “Settling Employees”).1
A. THE COMMISSION’S INVESTIGATION
The Commission initiated an investigation after learning that a number of Department of Transportation (“DOT”) employees appeared to have played in charity golf tournaments on teams that were sponsored by DOT contractors, consultants, and/or vendors. The Commission’s investigation was narrow in scope. The Commission had sufficient information to suggest that DOT employees had played in eight specific golf tournaments and obtained records from those tournaments (“Tournament Records”). The Commission did not review records from other golf tournaments. Based on the Tournament Records, the Commission obtained records from 15 businesses (“Business Records”) that appeared to have paid for teams on which DOT employees played. The Business Records also revealed that sponsored teams included employees from the Department of Accounting and General Services (“DAGS”) and the University of Hawaii (“UH”). Based on the information contained in the Tournament Records and Business Records, the Commission opened investigations relating to 49 employees to examine whether they may have violated the State Ethics Code by accepting free golf. The Settling Employees were employees of DOT, DAGS, and UH. The Commission did not expand the scope of the investigation to include employees of all state agencies.
A number of the Settling Employees appeared to have accepted free golf from contractors, consultants, and/or vendors (collectively, “Firms”) that had contracts or other business relationships with their respective state agencies or were significantly affected by, or involved in, the Settling Employees’ official action. Some of the Settling Employees appeared to have accepted free golf on numerous occasions over a period of years from the same Firms. The free golf included golf tournaments and recreational rounds of golf. Typically, golf tournament entry fees included green fees, cart fees, food and beverages (including, in most cases, a dinner banquet after the tournament), gifts given to all participants, and prizes. The cost to play in the golf tournaments ranged from approximately $125 to $460 per player per tournament. In determining the value of a golf tournament, the Commission included the golf and all tournament-related gifts, prizes, and other benefits that the Settling Employees received. The cost of the recreational rounds of golf ranged from approximately $20 to $180 per person per round. In determining the value of a recreational round of golf, the Commission included the golf and all gifts that the Settling Employees received as part of the golf outing, including food and beverages.
The Commission notes that, in many cases, the Settling Employees admitted that they had played in golf tournaments and/or recreational rounds of golf; admitted that they did not pay for the golf; and provided information regarding other golf tournaments and recreational rounds of golf in which they may have played for free that were in addition to those instances uncovered by the Commission’s investigation.
Based on the Commission’s investigation, including information provided by the Settling Employees, it appeared that the Settling Employees accepted free golf from the following Firms:
Aloha Cargo Transport;
Bowers + Kubota Consulting, Inc.;
Central Construction, Inc.;
Graybar Electric Company, Inc.;
HDR Engineering, Inc.;
Hirata & Associates, Inc.;
KAI Hawaii, Inc.;
Mitsunaga & Associates, Inc.;
Parsons Brinckerhoff, Inc.;
PBR Hawaii & Associates, Inc.;
R. M. Towill Corporation;
Ronald N. S. Ho & Associates, Inc.; and
SSFM International, Inc.
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