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Sunday, September 20, 2020
'Hush Money' and Retaliation: FBI Investigates Kauai Charter School tied to OHA Trustee
By Andrew Walden @ 6:34 PM :: 3909 Views :: Kauai County, DHHL, Education K-12, Ethics, OHA

by Andrew Walden

FBI agents are looking in to corruption on Kauai.  According to documents filed in an Hawaii Labor Relations Board case, as part of their investigation, the FBI is probing Kanuikapono, Inc. the ‘fiscal sponsor’ and landlord of Kanuikapono Public Charter School in Anahola.

Akamai readers will remember that a federal public defender, representing OHA Kauai Trustee Dan Ahuna, revealed his client “is being investigated by the FBI,” in a March 14, 2018, letter to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). (PACER Case #MC1800083 LEK KSC) 

Over the next two-and-a-half years, no additional details were reported—until now.

Obtained through an Hawai’i Free Press open records request, documents filed in Labor Board case #19-CE-03-928, “HGEA v Kanuikapono PCS and Jade Danner-Jones,” allege retaliation against witnesses to “possible criminal conduct at Kanuikapono Charter School.”  The case stems from an original complaint initiated May 8, 2019, by Kanuikapono School Administrative Services Assistant (SASA) Denby Dawson with the support of several other school employees.  

Denby Dawson, Jade Danner Jones, and Kanoe Ahuna did not respond to a request for comment.   But the lawyer representing Jade Danner Jones and Kanuikapono PCS, deputy Attorney General Richard Thomason, May 16, 2019, argues:  

“…the recently empaneled Governing Board (which was reconstituted by the Charter School Commission, when the prior Board was removed) is putting forth a maximum effort to respond to the following situations by no later than the end of the school year:

“a) Several Notices of Concern issued by the Charter School Commission, which, if not satisfactorily addressed, will almost result in the school being shut down and its entire staff left without jobs.

“b) A voluminous FBI subpoena duces tecum demanding all manner of electronic files and documents involving the School’s appurtenant non-profit entity.  (The school is not the subject of the investigation.)” 

Since July, 2018, when the old Kanuikapono Board was ousted by the HSCSC, the Executive Director and principal of Kanuikapono PCS has been Kanoe Ahuna, wife of OHA Trustee Dan Ahuna.  Jade Danner-Jones, apparently back--after an unfortunate eviction proceeding--into good graces with her sister, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) founder, Robin Danner, was made Chair of the ‘Transitional’ Kanuikapono Board.  Earlier this year Danner-Jones quit the board to become the school’s Business Manager.

Problems at Kanuikapono PCS made news in the Summer of 2018 but Kanuikapono was fortunate.  Other schools with corruption problems were shut down by HSCSC.

A March 21, 2016, UIPA request from CNHA founder Robin Danner got an Hawaii State Charter School Commission (HSCSC)  investigation started.  At the time, the school was controlled through its “fiscal sponsor” Kanuikapono, Inc led by Ipo Torio Kauhane.

Robin Danner demanded the school produce three years of credit card records, severance pay agreements, 21 Hawaiian Airlines ticket purchases—with ticket dates and prices to the penny--and “a current list of the board members on the actual School governing board.” 

Each one of Robin Danner’s UIPA request items would, over the next two years, figure prominently in an HSCSC investigation into the relationship between the school and Kanuikapono, Inc. 

OHA’s HSCSC representative at the time was Sylvia Hussey--now OHA’s CEO. 

In the midst of these events, OHA Trustees in October, 2017, with Dan Ahuna absent, voted to reject a controversial CNHA grab for authority over disbursement of $3M of OHA’s charter school funds—including Kanuikapono.

In addition to using school credit cards for personal travel and expenses, ousted board members were accused of appointing themselves without public participation, faking minutes, and numerous conflicts of interest involving cross-representation between Kanuikapono, Inc and Kanuikapono PCS, and board members working as school employees. 

In written testimony submitted to HSCSC, July 18, 2018, Robin Danner describes forming an “Accountability Project” with the Anahola DHHL Association “in 2015 and 2016 after leaving the Board to protect my own integrity.” 

Danner calls their findings ‘stunning’:

Plane tickets by Ipo Kauhane to pay for cousins, nephews, children, family members to fly to family funerals, Merrie Monarch and the like, groceries purchased at Safeway, Costco, etc. Indeed, when I requested data under the public information laws, the accounting firm provided me a copy of expenses with references to the purpose of expenses, and then Ipo Kauhane provided me the same list, with the purposes revised, clearly to hide the personal nature of the expenses.

In short, Ipo Kauhane held a debit card to the School checking account, which is public funds.  When I informed her that having and using a debit card to purchase plane tickets, to purchase Starbucks coffee, to purchase groceries, is a terrible practice, it was ignored.

In one instance, it was revealed that Ipo Kauhane paid her sister more than $10,000 in severance pay after terminating employment. At a homestead meeting, her sister attended and blurted out, that the money was "hush money", her words, not anyone else's words.

In another instance, we informed the School and its nonprofit, that it was not right to build school facilities with philanthropic dollars, and then to require the School to pay the nonprofit $42,000 annually for facility rent to the nonprofit. Those dollars should remain with the School to benefit the kids, to fund a lunch program, or an additional teacher aide, etc.

The $42,000 rent implies possible “conversion” of gifts to Kanuikapono PCS from Kamehameha Schools, OHA and DHHL.  Part of the HSCSC investigation focused on the use of funds from OHA and Kamehameha Schools donation of trailers and capital improvement funds via Kanuikapono Inc. similar to sandwich lease schemes common during the Broken Trust days. 

Even after being ousted from the school’s board and removed as the school’s ‘fiscal sponsor,’ Kanuikapono Inc is billing Kanuikapono PCS for rent on donated improvements—including several of the school’s buildings--which now sit on a DHHL ground lease held by Kanuikapono, Inc. through 2038.

Has Kanuikapono PCS sought clarification from the donors regarding the proper use and ownership of donated assets?   

According to HGEA’s grievance, the change in leadership at Kanuikapono did not bring an end to retaliation against whistleblowing school employees.  Instead:

“…grievant (Kanuikapono SASA Denby Dawson) was yelled at, screamed at and harassed by Jade Danner Jones, a non-employee and board member of Kanuikapono charter school…. Jade Danner Jones changed and re-set grievant’s password to school emails ultimately blocking all grievant accessibility to her own emails….”  

“Jade Danner-Jones gave the directive for grievant to cease performing her work duties and reassigning them to other employees.”

A few hours after a May 2, 2019 meeting between HGEA reps, Dawson, Ahuna, and Kanuikapono Board member Derek Green, Dawson received an email placing her on administrative leave until “May 8, 2019 at which time ED (Kanoe Ahuna) would meet with (Dawson) to go over her job duties.”  Dawson was also ordered to “return all school assets (post office key, user names, passwords, etc).”

HGEA’s grievance points out:

“In this case the grievant was not notified of any complaint filed against (her) and was placed on leave without cause.  Grievant cannot be placed on leave for filing a complaint against a non-employee board member for harassment, for being subject to a hostile work environment, for inquiring on school changes and policies, exposing deficiencies, possible criminal conduct, and for voicing her concerns, when in fact she should be protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act.” 

Retaliating against a witness is a federal felony subject to 10 years imprisonment at hard labor under 18 US Code §1513(e)

Why would the new leadership retaliate against witnesses to alleged illegality of the previous leadership?

---30---

SCRIBD: Kanuikapono PCS Files (600pgs, searchable) 

Kanuikapono PCS:

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