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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
Naming Names: Airports Division Ran Late-Night Parties Where Hawaii Politicians Raked In Money
By Selected News Articles @ 4:04 PM :: 4564 Views :: Honolulu County, Maui County, Ethics, Hawaii State Government, OHA, COVID-19

NYT: Inside the Late-Night Parties Where Hawaii Politicians Raked In Money

(Editor’s Note: This next set of indictments will touch Caldwell, Airports Div, CNHA, OHA, DTL, Maui County, contractors, and legislators.)

from NYTimes April 17, 2024 (excerpts)

 … For the better part of a decade, some of Hawaii’s most powerful people huddled together at late-night parties in a cramped second-floor office (800 S Beretania St, right across from HPD HQ.) where lobbyists and executives seeking government contracts lined up to drop cash and checks into a metal lockbox.

(CLUE: This is a list of upcoming federal indictments.  Scroll down for the 2022 COVID-CSC investigation involving Wes Yonamine.)

That was the entry fee for these extraordinary political fund-raisers. Inside the office, just a short walk from the State Capitol in downtown Honolulu, dozens of guests were served sushi prepared by professional chefs and unlimited beer and liquor.

At the end of the night, Wesley Yonamine, the host and a high-ranking airport official, would, together with the politicians, pop open the box and dole out campaign contributions according to a list of pledges obtained before each event.

As described by attendees, a typical party could bring in thousands of dollars in donations, giving some elected officials almost half their annual campaign haul in a single night….

The parties started as early as 2014 at Mr. Yonamine’s private office in Honolulu, according to campaign finance records, which lists dates and locations where political fund-raisers are held. They moved to the Pagoda Hotel there in 2019 and continued until at least 2020….

(Feb 22, 2021: How Many Legislators Were Partying With Sharon Har During COVID Shutdown?)

One of the most prominent guests was Mr. Choy, a major political donor and government contractor who would later be sentenced to more than three years in prison for bribing officials. He and his associates donated more than $28,000 to political campaigns around the time of the parties.

2023: Hawaii Bribery Scandal Casts A Shadow Over Lahaina’s Ruins

By 2020, Mr. Choy was wearing a wire and actively recording meetings to aid federal investigators….

(Ethics Test: Are you laughing or sweating?)

At least 59 companies competed for airport contracts between 2014 and 2020. But nearly half the airports’ 153 professional services contracts went to just 14 companies. Executives from those firms all donated around the time of Mr. Yonamine’s parties….

The contracts were worth a combined total of more than $131 million, according to the state’s Department of Transportation.

These professional services contracts are for design or consulting jobs, and winners are selected based on their qualifications or proposals rather than just their price. The rules tend to give public officials more leeway to choose a company based on favoritism….

Ford Fuchigami, then transportation director and now head of the Airports Division, said … he did not recall attending the parties, though records show he donated around the time of a party in 2019….

Governor Ige said he mostly remembered seeing Transportation Department employees at Mr. Yonamine’s office …

…analysis of campaign donations and contracts found that since 2006 — the year the pay-to-play law went into place — people tied to government contractors have provided a remarkable percentage of the money fueling state and local politics. They have given state and local Hawaii politicians more than $24 million: about one-fifth of all donations made. Of that total, $6 million has come from people tied to just 15 companies….

… campaign records, linked more than 28,000 of the donations to contractors….

… At least a dozen legislators have worked for or co-owned companies that won state contracts, some profiting in ways that have not been previously reported….

“It’s what drove me to work in public service for 36 years,” he said (without smirking)….

Michael Matsumoto, president of the engineering firm SSFM International, pleaded no contest to money laundering involving campaign funds in 2003. He has since contributed $130,000 to a range of politicians, and the company continues to win public work….

Representative Kyle Yamashita, the current finance chairman…. Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, who previously led the House Finance Committee, received more than $107,000, while former Representative (and now inmate) Ty Cullen, the vice chairman until 2022, got $22,100….

Mr. Dela Cruz has received more than $239,000 in campaign donations from people tied to big contractors since he became Ways and Means chairman in 2018. Former Senator Gil Keith-Agaran, vice chairman until October, got $70,000 during the same time period….

In April 2023, the Senate Ways and Means Committee, led by Mr. Dela Cruz, budgeted for the purchase of a Maui hotel to convert into affordable housing and a school. That created a windfall for the law firm Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher, which got a $450,000 contract to do legal work on the deal. Two of the firm’s directors had recently donated a combined $3,000 to Mr. Dela Cruz and Gov. Josh Green’s campaigns.

One of the directors, Ivan M. Lui-Kwan, contributed another $2,000 to the governor’s campaign as the bill awaited his signature, and another $1,000 after he approved the budget. Mr. Lui-Kwan and Duane Fisher, a partner at the firm, each donated $1,000 to his campaign about two weeks before the contract was awarded….

An examination of their financial interests found that a dozen of them were employees, directors or co-owners of companies that had won contracts. Since 2006, those companies have gotten at least $56 million in state deals, according to Hawaii’s contract database.

Disclosure records show that Senate President Ron Kouchi earns between $50,000 and $100,000 annually working for his brother’s disposal company on Kauai, which is the only provider of trash services to agencies on that island.

Representative David Alcos III works as a subcontractor on state projects. Representative Micah Aiu is a lawyer at Nan Inc., one of the state’s biggest contractors, which won at least $39 million in projects last year….

Mr. Dela Cruz, the Ways and Means chairman, seems to have actually done hands-on work for a state contract: He was the project manager for a $224,000 State Health Department contract with DTL, a communications firm where he was co-owner and vice president….

DTL was the only firm to bid on the contract. After selling his ownership interest in the company in late 2020, Mr. Dela Cruz continued receiving money from the firm for consulting services, according to his 2022 financial disclosure….

read … Inside the Late-Night Parties Where Hawaii Politicians Raked In Money

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2024: The Secret History of the Mercado Kim Crime Family 

2023: Hawaii Bribery Scandal Casts A Shadow Over Lahaina’s Ruins

2022: How Many Legislators Were Partying With Sharon Har During COVID Shutdown?

2022: Campaign Spending Commission investigates COVID testing company that got big city contract  

An attorney for one of the Capture Diagnostic employees — Wes Yonamine — said the commission subpoenaed his client’s bank records back in April. He said he hasn’t had any communications with the commission since.

The commission has also subpoenaed the bank accounts of another employee Jordan Kurokawa, who works as compliance administrator and project coordinator for Capture Diagnostics.

Kurokawa’s father is Gary Kurokawa who was Caldwell’s former chief of staff. Gary Kurokawa signed off on the airport testing contract.

2022: COVID test firm accused of reimbursing employee contributions to former Mayor Kirk Caldwell

Capture Diagnostics is a foreign limited-liability company registered on Jan. 6, 2021.

The Campaign Spending Commission has subpoenaed bank records of Wesley H. Yonamine, a senior project manager with Capture Diagnostics, and Jordan W.A.K. Kurokawa, who works as a compliance administrator for the company, according to attorneys and sources with knowledge of the investigation.

Yonamine gave the Caldwell campaign $4,000 on Nov. 9, 2021, and Kurokawa donated $6,000 on the same date, according to state campaign spending records.

Capture Diagnostics LLC CEO John T. D’Orazio of Naples, Fla., who is not the subject of a CSC subpoena, also gave $4,000 to Caldwell’s campaign on Nov. 9, according to the records.

2022: Experts: Nonprofit’s non-bid COVID contract was a lucrative ‘sweetheart deal’ that gouged taxpayers 

CB: “It was a great expose and I think it is going to shock people and open some eyes,” Silvert said. “But, without continued political pressure from the public and more importantly, without continued exposure of these issues by the press, this Legislature has proven it is unwilling and unable to make any sort of meaningful changes.”

BH: Alleged Hawaii Travel Industry Corruption Exposed By NYT - Beat of Hawaii --  Another major Honolulu Airport contractor, NAN Inc., was mentioned. “Representative Micah Aiu is a lawyer at Nan Inc., one of the state’s biggest contractors, which won at least $39 million in projects last year. They have said they are not directly involved in their companies’ contracts.” We found that NAN Inc. won a nearly $150M Honolulu Airport contract for baggage handling systems that was performed last year.

HNN: Morning Beat: Comprehensive look into loopholes in Hawaii's pay-to-play laws

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