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Sunday, April 25, 2021
Mehau in Majuro – How the US Meth Epidemic Began
By Andrew Walden @ 10:02 PM :: 12252 Views :: Ethics, Hawaii History, Drugs

“We’re not proud of it.  But crystal methamphetamine is our gift to the nation. It started here.”  -- Judge and Former US Attorney Ed Kubo

by Andrew Walden

America’s current methamphetamines epidemic began four decades ago in Hawaii.  

Judge and Former US Attorney Ed Kubo says crystal meth in Hawai‘i goes back to the 1980s. The drug first reached Hawaii’s shores through the Asian market before it took off on the mainland.

“And at that time meth was called the poor man’s cocaine. It was cheaper and yet you could get the same high,” Kubo explained. “And it exploded here. Meth became the worst thing that we ever saw.”

“We’ve been the pioneer of methamphetamine abuse before the mainland,” said Gary Yabuta, a veteran cop who was the Chief of Maui Police for five years. He’s now the Executive Director of the Hawai‘i High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federal law enforcement group funded through the White House.

“We pretty much initiated the use of crystal methamphetamine, which is a smokable form. Before that, to get high on methamphetamine you had to use the liquid form and inject it with a hypodermic needle. Asian chemists were able to figure out a way to make it into a crystal form, a solid form to be smoked, and it became more popular,” said Yabuta. “That’s why Hawai‘i, by virtue of its distance to Asia, was probably the first state in the United States to experience crystal methamphetamine, or ice, as a drug of choice.”  --Hawaii Public Radio, May 26, 2016

Did any of this happen without the Godfather of the Hawaiian Mafia?

Larry Mehau had lots of cronies in aviation.  He controlled Honolulu Airport secuirty for two decades.  His 'ghostwriter' was Honolulu FAA administrator Stanley Lum. (The Goodfather, the life of Larry Mehau in his own words p 284)   

In the early 1980s, Mehau sent two of his sons to Majuro, Marshall Islands, to set up a tuna-processing ‘fish base’ to receive shipments from Chinese fishing boats.  The tuna was then flown to Honolulu and the US West Coast.

“I …developed and implemented the state’s first airport security program, and held the contract for airport security for 20 years despite intense competition from Mainland contractors who wielded great national power.

“Our family went into other ventures as well.  We started a fish base operation in the Marshall Islands, running our family’s own fleet of longline boats plus a hundred more from China and Taiwan.  In support of the fish processing business, we had to invest in constructing an ice plant with 200-ton daily capacity that blew the flake ice into boats a hundred yards away, a water purifying plant for both drinking and making ice, a freezer, two reefers (refrigerated units), two apartment complexes for our family and our workers, and housing, and locker room facilities for our 150 employees and the many crew members who might be in port.  We also built  a reefer at the airport to keep our fish cool while waiting for the freight planes….”    

--Larry Mehau, 1998 ‘Cherished Memories of Kamehameha’  (Goodfather, p64)

One of Mehau’s cronies was the late Alexander ‘Blackie’ Bell, Vice President of Operations for Hawaiian Airlines until his 1990 retirement.  Bell contributed a chapter to Goodfather, including this item from page 152:

“I sat in on a meeting with two (crime) factions, these guys were notorious.  I happened to be in Larry's office, he said I have to go to lunch, come with me.  These two guys were friends at one time, but now represented two different groups.  And they were having confrontations, and these guys got to the point where somebody was really going to get hurt.  We went to lunch, and this is typical Larry Mehau.  They sat down with Larry, but wouldn’t talk to each other.  So Larry talks with one guy, then talks with the other guy, then he finally got them to talk with one another.  And when he got through, they shook hands, and they were on their way, that was it.

“He always did that… He stopped stuff from getting out of hand.”  

Bell was also the “longtime owner of Hawaii Aviation Contract Services which charters Hawaiian Air pilots to Japanese airlines." – Goodfather p 142

Hawaiian Airlines operated a DC8 ‘Combi’ between Majuro and Honolulu for Air Marshall Islands starting in 1991.  According to Hawaiian Airlines' in-house Hana Hou Magazine, “(Hawaiian Airlines inaugurated) flights to the US West Coast in 1985.”

Fisheries reports produced by UH SOEST and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community spell out the details:

In 1983, a tuna longline ‘fish base’ was established in Majuro under a development package provided by the Japan International Cooperation Association (JICA). The first company to fully use the fish base was the Hawaiian-based company, Mehau Fishing Co. After this company moved out, the Taiwanese based company, Ting Hong, took over the operation and use of the fish base until it ceased operation in 1998 (Anon. 2002). At the time that Ting Hong pulled out, the machinery and facilities at the fish base were in poor condition and needed major repairs and refurbishment.  -- Secretariat of the Pacific Community report (pg 9)

  *   *   *   *   *

Majuro: In February 1995, the Marshall Islands government bought out the interest of two Hawaii business men, Larry Mehau and Frank Goto, that had been operating the transshipment operation in Majuro since the early 1990s. Initially, the Majuro operation was transshipping tuna caught by a local fleet of twelve boats, organized by the MehauGoto operation. These fish were being flown on the Airline of the Marshall Islands (AMI) to Hawaii and on to Japan, and MMAGG (as the Mehau-Goto company was known) had plans to expand their operation to ISO boats. In 1993, twelve Chinese boats began home porting in Majuro and transshipping through MMAGG. By June 1994, the number of Chinese boats had increased to nearly 40, and considerable controversy had developed in the Marshalls about the impact of the Chinese boats on the catch of the local fleet. Although reportedly losing money for MMAGG, the tuna export base at Majuro continued to grow….  

In October 1994, the Government negotiated with Ting Hong Enterprises and Larry Mehau to allow Ting Hong to take over the transshipment operation on a 20 year lease arrangement.9 The long-term impact of this change in control over tuna exports on fresh fish transshipment through Guam and Saipan is not yet clear. In theory, Ting Hong could use its own aircraft to fly fish into Guam and Saipan and use the air links to Japan already established. However, thus far, Ting Hong has chosen to continue to rely on AMI's Hawaii connection to move fresh fish to Japan. This choice no doubt reflects considerable pressure to continue to use the Airline of the Marshall Islands (which is heavily dependent on fresh fish shipment revenues) and the much greater cargo capacity available on the Honolulu-Japan route. – SOEST pg 16

A National Institute of Justice report (pg 5) shows how the timeline correlates:

Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) data show that in 1992 only two states (Hawaii and California) reported more than 5% of total treatment admissions were for methamphetamine.

China is the primary producer and consumer of crystal methamphetamine

Starting in Hawaii and areas of Southern California in the 1980s, methamphetamine reappeared. With production techniques and methods of use imported from the Pacific Rim (Jenkins, 2004), methamphetamine in smokable form (Ice) became popular in Hawaii. By 1987 and 1988, law enforcement seized hundreds of methamphetamine labs in San Diego, and by 1990 use had appeared in Phoenix, Denver and Portland (Miller, 2004). By the mid 1990s, it was well entrenched in many areas of the West and had moved into the Southwest, Texas and some states west of the Mississippi, often originating in rural areas.

Larry Mehau died in 2015 at the age of 86, but the two sons he dispatched to Majuro weren’t so long-lived:

Timothy I. Mehau, 40, of Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands, a self-employed manager of fishing boats and a seafood processor, died Aug. 25 in Kona Community Hospital. – Obituary, Star-Bulletin, Sept 4, 1997

“…he was a retired manager for Hawaiian Protective Association formerly with the Department of Transportation Airport Fire/Crash Rescue. He was also a manager of 100 long-line fishing boats in a joint venture between United Fishing/HPA and the Republic of Marshall Islands, where he also supervised the creation of a fish base….”  -- Michael James Ehukal Mehau (Aged 52) Obituary, Hawaii Tribune-Herald, March 18, 2004

"It's hard to be his son," said Larry Mehau's widow, Beverly. (Goodfather p 134)


B&N: The Goodfather, the life of Larry Mehau in his own words

Related: Say 'Uncle' -- What Connects Miske to Kealoha?

Related: Kubo nomination: Hanabusa, Souza tied to Pali Golf course shooters’ mob


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