Mugshots: Zuri Aki’s aunt Dianne Oshiro and mother Kurumi Kaapana-Aki.
Two Arrests: Corruption Bust Strikes at Heart of Drive for Fake Indian Tribe
“If they don’t get this settled before Obama leaves office, it’s over.” – Neil Abercrombie
by Andrew Walden
Former Civil Beat columnist Zuri Aki tells Hawai’i Free Press he does not expect to be arrested in the ongoing investigation of the Aki family-controlled Myron B ‘Pinky’ Thompson (MBTA) Charter School.
His aunt and mother were not so lucky. State Sheriff’s deputies took fingerprints and mug shots from Thompson Principal Diana Oshiro and Vice-Principal Kurumi Kaapana-Aki May 17. A week later the State Attorney General charged the two with “theft and tampering with a government record.” According to the AG, the charges cover six years of illegal payments to family members and efforts to cover them up.
UPDATE: Both of these criminals pled 'no contest' June 15, 2016
Aki is the self-described “chief drafter of the…group responsible for putting together the Constitution” at the February Nai Aupuni federal recognition ‘Aha held at John Waihee’s Moanalua Valley golf course. Aki is also a Democratic State House candidate in HD36, Mililani running in the Primary against former State Rep Marilyn Lee for the chance to face Republican incumbent Beth Fukumoto Chang in the November election. Aki says he does not plan to make the corruption arrests an issue in the race.
Thompson has been under an ethics spotlight since 2010 when the Star-Advertiser named Zuri Aki among the beneficiaries:
Principal Diana Oshiro of Myron B. Thompson Academy Public Charter School says she values "blind loyalty" and has hired several relatives — including her sister and three nephews — because she can count on them to do what she says.
Three out of four administrators at Thompson, one of the state’s largest charter schools, are part of Oshiro’s family. Her sister oversees the elementary school as vice principal and also works as a flight attendant.
In 2002, school administrators asked the family of Myron B. Thompson, former trustee of Kamehameha Schools and president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, whether they could name the school after him, and reserved a seat for a family member on its school board.
Eldest son Myron K. Thompson, who holds that seat, said the question of nepotism came up during a recent audit as well as in inquiries from the Star-Advertiser….
After receiving anonymous complaints, the Star-Advertiser tracked down eight former staff members, most of them teaching at other public and private schools. All of them said family members at Thompson could ignore the rules, and came and went as they pleased.
» Oshiro’s sister, Kurumi Kaapana-Aki, is vice principal of the elementary school but also works full time as a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines, according to co-workers at the school and the airline. Although Thompson teachers are expected to attend school daily, she was often absent, the former staff members said. Kaapana-Aki did not return phone calls from the Star-Advertiser.
"She was not even showing up at work but she’s still collecting money from the state to be a vice principal," said Brayden "Kaleo" Ramos, a former Thompson faculty member who now teaches at Halau Ku Mana charter school.
» Kaapana-Aki’s son, Andrew Aki, is the athletic director, although the school has not had a sports team for two years and he does not teach the online PE course. Asked what he is doing for students at Thompson, Oshiro said he is organizing activities such as Jump Rope for Heart. Aki was hired more than six years ago with just a high school degree. He is enrolled in the first year of two-year associate’s program at Leeward Community College that trains teacher assistants, according to the college.
» Zuri Aki, Andrew’s brother, was hired in 2003 also with a high school degree, and teaches film. In May, he earned his two-year associate’s degree in liberal arts at Leeward Community College. Nidgion said Aki’s classes at Thompson largely consisted of watching movies and playing video games with students. "The sad thing about it, he wouldn’t show up in time to open the door for the class," Nidgion said. "They would be in the hall for an hour waiting for him, causing trouble." ….
» A third brother, Hanan Aki, works part time as a clerk at Thompson....
Elizabeth Blake, vice principal at Thompson during 2001-05, said she recruited Oshiro to head the school and that she was "a great principal" until she started hiring her relatives.
"Then it got really, really bad," Blake said. "Not only did she hire the nephews, she hired their girlfriends….”
A 2011 Statewide audit of Charter Schools explains “At Myron B. Thompson Academy, we found the school contracted with its employees to excessively increase their salaries. The school’s failure to adhere to ethical fiscal management principles led to $133,000 in overpayments to staff, who, in turn authorized and benefited from irregular employment and procurement practices. These possibly fraudulent and abusive practices have the potential to erode public confidence in the school and the public charter school system as a whole.”
An Hawaii Ethics Commission investigation was taken over by the State Attorney General in November, 2013 leading ultimately to the arrests May 17.
Zuri Aki focuses his ire on the original whistle-blowers, saying they ‘compelled’ the Attorney General:
At one time, years ago, I was being investigated for a number of frivolous accusations - the source being former disgruntled MBTA teachers. The investigators did not find anything that substantiated those accusations and I haven't been mentioned ever-since. I believe that when an allegation is made, the media gets involved, as do certain public officials, the AG's office is compelled to do a thorough investigation. The investigation itself may not be an unjust action, however, I do believe frivolous accusations with malicious intent are unjust.
With a background like his, Zuri Aki:
- was working as a regular columnist for Civil Beat until he quit in March to run for office,
- is a student at the UH Richardson School of Law,
- is a legislative candidate seeking the Mililani HD36 Democratic Party nomination for State House in the August 13 Primary, and
- is ‘Chief Drafter’ of the Nai Aupuni ‘Aha ‘Constitution’.
Now you know what the powers that be look for when they pick the the future generations of leadership for Hawaii.