by Andrew Walden
Convicted cocaine dealer Chad Tsuneyoshi is taking over as Honolulu Council Chair Ernie Martin’s Campaign Treasurer.
Martin’s campaign appointment of the federal felon and ex-con came during a week of phone and email tag between this reporter and Honolulu Department of Community Services Director Sam Moku. At the beginning of the week, a source had pointed out to Hawai`i Free Press that Martin’s then current, now former, Campaign treasurer--Lori Okami--was working in DCS as Office of Special Projects Administrator after being hired on a 20-hour-a –week personal services contract as “Planner V” from March 23 through June 30, 2011. The source alleged that Okami—who pens the Honolulu Advertiser’s “Be Strong, Live Long” column—was running interference for Martin by acting as DCS OSP Administrator while on the part time contract and was controlling the release of potentially damaging information about Marin’s oversight of the ORI scandal and his oversight of the Leeward Coast Community Benefits program.
In addition to her Advertiser column, Okami runs a health and fitness company and 3P CRM Consulting LLC, a customer relations management consulting firm whose address and telephone number were listed as the contact information for Okami when she was listed as Martin’s Treasurer. But in spite of—or perhaps because of--her media savvy, Okami’s July 11 reply to this reporter’s inquiry was: “Please direct any inquires to the attention if (sic) the Director, Sam Moku.”
When Moku finally did make contact with this reporter on July 16, Moku said that Okami only became OSP Administrator on July 1 and that as a condition of employment, Moku had asked Okami to step down as Martin’s Campaign Treasurer.
Sometime during the week, Martin’s campaign filed an amended Campaign Organization Report reflecting the change in treasurer—but this was not Tsuneyoshi’s first week of work for Martin’s campaign. For a $1000 per person event on March 15 and a $500 per person event April 21 , Tsuneyoshi had filed “Intent to hold Fundraiser” reports for Martin’s campaign.
Flash back just a little over a decade. The Council Chair’s money man was signing another kind of document: a plea bargain. (Correction: Tsuneyoshi and four others did not plead guilty, they were convicted at trial.) In an article titled “Drug ring boss gets 40 years”, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin January 19, 2000 explains:
The head of an international drug-trafficking organization must serve 40 years in federal prison, U.S. District Judge David Ezra has ordered.
Richard Brown Taumoepeau was one of five co-defendants convicted last year in U.S. District Court of conspiring to transport multikilogram quantities of cocaine from the United States to Pacific Rim locations including Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand between 1990 and 1997.
Ezra said at a sentencing hearing yesterday that Taumoepeau, who had successfully and creatively trafficked drugs for nearly a decade, was in every sense an "international drug kingpin." He said Taumoepeau showed no remorse and that there was no way to measure the harm done to the community.
U.S. Attorney Steve Alm said evidence presented during the six-week trial that lasted from April to June showed Taumoepeau headed the organization that began in San Francisco in the late 1980s and established itself in Hawaii 10 years later. The ring had expanded to Australia and New Zealand by 1996….
The government estimated between 500 and 1,000 kilograms were transported by the conspirators.
Also convicted last year were Siokatame Hafoka, also known as "Big Joe"; Sosaia Liufau, also known as "Big Saia"; and Chad Tsuneyoshi.
On April 4, 2000, for his role in the conspiracy, Tsuneyoshi was handed a sentence of five years in a federal penitentiary and an additional five years of parole.
A chart of cocaine abuse in Honolulu shows sharp increase from 1990-1997 then a sharp decline. Source HHIC.org
Tsuneyoshi also has three Hawaii misdemeanor convictions from 1990 and 1992.
He was released on parole March 5, 2004. Unlike other ex-cons who come out of prison broke, Tsuneyoshi quickly became involved in business as a promoter of cage fighting matches.
Tsuneyoshi is now a leading promoter of Hawaii MMA exhibitions. But in the beginning it didn’t go very well. In July, 2005 Tsuneyoshi promoted a poorly attended “Extreme Fights” event at Blaisdell Arena. Another low turnout event in Oakland, California led to publication of a September 6, 2006 article in San Francisco Weekly:
The UFC's success has spawned a horde of imitators, some of them helmed by sketchy characters, including the man behind the Bay Area Brawl, Chad Tsuneyoshi of Honolulu, Hawaii.
Several sources who were involved with the competition say Tsuneyoshi handed out checks to the combatants, referees, judges, and the state Athletic Commission on the night of the event, despite the disappointing turnout, which couldn't have been more than a couple thousand at most. Evidently, however, Tsuneyoshi promptly closed the bank account the checks were drawn on, causing them to bounce.
Danovis Pooler coaches Martha Salazar, a seasoned San Francisco boxer and MMA fighter who took her lumps that night. "I felt victimized. Martha felt victimized," says Pooler. Pooler says his fighter is owed $3,000, adding that he's lost faith in Tsuneyoshi's repeated promises to pay up. Tsuneyoshi, he complains, "has just bought time to not pay us."
"Of course I'm upset," says Marks. "I put a lot of effort into training, and the guy I fought was really tough. I put in six to eight weeks" of hard-core workouts and dieting in preparation for the bout. But, he continues, "I've been around the sport for a long time and there are a lot of shady people in the sport, so I wasn't that surprised." The whole event, he says, was "chaotic."
Oakland Arena General Manager Mark Kaufman says his company was paid in full for the rental of the venue, noting dryly that his employees "collect the money at the door."
At the Athletic Commission, Executive Director Armando Garcia is a soft-spoken man, but he's clearly exasperated. In addition to not paying at least some of the fighters, Tsuneyoshi stiffed the Commission, which provides the referees, judges, timekeepers, and doctors, and takes a 5 percent cut of ticket sales for any sanctioned event. Garcia says the commission, a branch of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, is owed more than $20,000, and may take the matter to the attorney general for criminal investigation. "To me, at some point in time, it's going to be clear that this was criminal ... The bottom line is that we're not going to let this go," says Garcia. "He will pay or he will get prosecuted. Enough is enough. We've done everything we can do." ….
…it's a little surprising that the commission overlooked Tsuneyoshi's criminal history. Federal court records obtained by SF Weekly show he was busted in 1997 on felony drug charges for participating in a major coke ring that distributed powder around the Pacific — from the Big Island to Australia to New Zealand to Guam. He was convicted in 2000 of conspiring to distribute more than 5 kilos of coke, and was sentenced to five years in prison to be followed by five years on probation.
In June, the same month Tsuneyoshi put on the Bay Area Brawl, he was hauled back into court for violating the terms of probation by associating with felons, court documents indicate.
Federal Probation Officers indeed had found that Tsuneyoshi violated terms of his supervised release by associating with two convicted felons in 2005 and again in May and June, 2006. On June 15, 2006, Judge Ezra sentenced Tsuneyoshi to two months home detention during non-working hours.
In August, 2006—about the time his home detention ended--Tsuneyoshi was in the media promoting electric cars. In December, 2007 he was promoting his brother’s limo service.
Now the former multi-kilo international cocaine dealer is responsible for collecting campaign contributions on behalf of the Chairman of a Honolulu City and County Council who won his seat by insisting that the Council would oversee the budget of the multi-billion dollar Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. After a decade, Tsuneyoshi has found his level again.
Martin has not responded to request for comment. We will update if a response is received.
Tsuneyoshi's response to our request for comment is published verbatim below.
PDF: 2006 Report on Violation of Supervised Release
Response from Chad Tsuneyoshi
I was convicted awhile back in my younger years. I made mistakes in my past and understand that it was serious and I paid the price for any mistakes I have made. The mistakes I made was before I joined the Army so on my own I decided to change my life around. I served as a combat medic and did so honorably with several awards serving in Germany and in Hawaii. Since then I have dedicated my life to helping the youth of my state. Here are a few examples of my accomplishments as a testament to my dedication to serve, I have received my associates in liberal art, my bachelors in Psychology and my Masters in MFT. I have volunteered on many occasions for organizations such as MADD, Hawaii Meth project, and I also did counseling for big brother and big sisters and dozens of other organizations.. I have received awards from the chief of police project think to serve the Keikis and the Kupunas of the state and I continue to do so. I understand there is a political war that goes on and the right for you to report the news which I do respect.
But please consider this before you put my name out there to the media. I have no ulterior motives but to support Ernie because he is a good person I met him when he was working for the Department of community services and I could always call him or his office for any questions of concerns while I was a volunteer helping the community. Then he ran for city council I always felt he was a good family person that cares about the community so I decided to support him. I do not get any benefits from helping him nor do I do any business with the city or state. I do it because he is a great guy. I believe that many people have made mistakes in the past but it's what you do now that determines your future. In many cases I am a success story and I convey my message to the high risk youth that I speak too (If I can you can too) I have paid my debt to society and I continue to pay it by serving my community. If you choose to slander me in the news not only will you hurt me but my wife and two kids in the process of a political war. Sometimes by going after individuals you hurt innocent by standers that are trying to make a difference.
I would be happy to talk to you to understand what it is that you are upset with me about. I just believe that if we want change in the community we do have to support candidates. What do I bring to the table? I think when you support a candidate you are hoping that the candidate brings something good to the table more than what you bring to the table. That is the reason why people support candidates in the hope that they bring something better to the community and I do believe with the experience that I had with him that he will and that is the only thing I can go by my experience with him. With the many gossip and he said she said stuff going on in politics what can you believe but your own experience with each candidate. I think in life you can do a millions of things right and one thing wrong and people focus on the one thing you did wrong. If the truth be told everyone made mistakes in their life rather it be personnel or business. Even with your statement what can a convicted person bring to the table! Does that mean if you are convicted that you cannot change or if your convicted in the past you cannot serve your community. I have been married for thirteen years since my conviction I have two kids that are doing excellent in school I have volunteered more hours and time serving this community then most people I know. This in itself show you that yes I have changed my life and I can bring a lot of good to the table.
Lastly, I really enjoy your article and I am a big fan of yours. You bring balance to the political world and in your own way help change things for the better. But I hope you consider what I wrote above before you slander me and my family's name in the pursuit of a political war. I would love to have a chat with you so you could get to know me if you choose too. Thank you for your time and consideration to reach out to me.