by Andrew Walden
Justin Keoni Souza, a musician and stevedore, is campaigning to unseat OHA’s anti-corruption watchdog--Trustee at-large Keli’i Akina--in the August 8 Primary election. Usually candidates like to talk to the media, but when Hawai’i Free Press asked Souza about his campaign committee chair, Honolulu lawyer Thomas Otake, Souza didn’t reply.
Perhaps Souza’s silence stems from the fact that his campaign chair is in court representing alleged mobster, drug dealer, and murderer, Michael Miske who was arrested, July 15, 2020, during dramatic island-wide FBI raids.
In the middle of what may become a death penalty case, Otake is making time for an OHA campaign. One might wonder what Michael Miske thinks about that. Like Souza, Otake remained silent when Hawai’i Free Press asked him.
Perhaps the compromise is worthwhile to Miske. Otake is the younger brother of Trump-appointed Honolulu Federal Judge Jill Otake.
Will Miske be getting good representation? Time-management has been an issue for Otake in the past.
Otake, February 15, 2019, was “disbarred from further practice before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board due to misconduct of an aggravating nature.” Otake had stalled the Labor Board for six years while his client’s related criminal case proceeded. He then failed to show up for the 2017 Labor Board hearing -- leading to his disbarment.
In response to the disbarment proceedings, Otake stated, “I also had two back to back lengthy jury trials in the latter part of 2018 that consumed all of my time and attention.”
The underlying case, DLIR v. Donaldson Enterprises, Inc., stemmed from the 2011 explosion of a Waikele fireworks bunker killing five workers contracted by Donaldson, an 8A ‘disadvantaged’ business.
The Federal Chemical Safety Board, January 17, 2013, Final Report “recommend(ed) that federal agencies develop a new government-wide safety and environmental responsibility requirement for contractors….” The CSB Chairman pointed out “(the five dead workers) should be alive today,” but DEI got the contract in spite of the fact that “our investigation found that company personnel had no specific expertise in fireworks disposal, that the company’s procedures were extremely unsafe, and that there are no national standards or accepted good practices for disposing of fireworks.”
Souza’s campaign Treasurer is Leonani Puailihau, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) Community Relations Manager. Souza campaign donors include Kuhio Lewis, CEO of CNHA.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs in November, 2019, gave CNHA $1.66M to hand out via the “Kahiau Community Assistance Program.” After COVID hit, OHA Trustees on May 8, 2020, boosted the program to $3.83 million. Under Kakiau, CNHA is authorized to grant “up to $1,500 in one-time emergency assistance to cover mortgage, rent, rent deposit or utility debts of Native Hawaiians facing financial hardship.”
What will that money buy? $3.83M / $1,500 = 2,553 grants. Do the math.
We asked Souza about his involvement with Kahiau distributions. He didn't reply.
Otake gave $2,500 to Souza's campaign on May 26, 2020. Other Souza donors include Honolulu Councilmembers Ikaika Anderson and Tommy Waters (who ironically defeated Miske pal Trevor Ozawa), Hilo used car dealer Patrick Aiona, the usual development interests hungry for a slice of OHA’s Kaka’ako Makai action, and William Henry McClellan CEO of Pelatron, an 8A tied to ex-Senator Brickwood Galuteria and outgoing OHA Trustee Robert Lindsey.
Souza’s campaign also got $500 from Nohea Santimer a Big Island land owner who for years threatened to begin logging operations on ranch lands which were habitat for the only remaining wild population of alala (Hawaiian crows). After nearly a decade of litigation and logging threats, the alala were seemingly saved from Santimer’s chainsaws in 1997 when the Audubon Society and Sierra Club finally convinced the US Fish and Wildlife Service to buy the ranch. But it would take another eight years of lawyering for the Government to gain access to the land and “begin removing wild cattle and useless junk left behind by the former owners.”