Bribery, Blackmail: Louie, Coppa Secretly Recorded Offering to Trade away Investigation, Buy Silence from DHHL Exec
Bribery: “The offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties.”
AUDIO: 23 Minute Recording (Must listen)
KHON: State investigation uncovered: Did DHHL staff obey ‘look the other way’?
Imagine living on Hawaiian home lands for most of your life, only to be told you're now not Hawaiian enough. That's at the heart of a conflict that could affect the future of the homelands program. What started with a now-fired deputy's allegations of bullying led KHON to dig up an even bigger issue: an investigation into whether DHHL staffers were instructed to look the other way on state law….
KHON2 has confirmed DHHL officials and the Attorney General's office have investigated since at least 2011 what happened after DHHL employees were told not to double check whether leaseholders were indeed "Hawaiian" enough to keep benefits, if they already managed to qualify once.
KHON2 obtained an email from now-fired Deputy Director Michelle Kauhane from fall 2011 in which she instructs staff, "Effective immediately, we do not need to re-certify a Hawaiian who has already been proved to meet the blood quantum requirements."
Kauhane explained to KHON2 her reasoning as being this: "Once we issue a lease to a Native Hawaiian and say you're on the waitlist or you're 50%, you're eligible for this benefit, what would prompt us then to say, 5 years from now, 10 years from now, you're less than 50 percent?"
According to DHHL, the prompts include anything from a lease, loan or change-in-successor that should trigger what's called "re-certification," a double-check on the legally required 50 percent mark based on the latest-available information….
As DHHL and Attorney General investigators probed how far that directive went in violating state law, the deputy was unaware of it but says she got suspicious something was going on - she says she wasn't allowed into executive meetings, and alleges that her own beneficiary file went missing. (Kauhane is a home lands leaseholder who DHHL confirms is a qualified beneficiary.)
(EDITOR's NOTE: In the real world, the AG would be asked to write a 'finding' stating the State's position on the legality of "re-certification" and the DHHL would then be bound by that 'finding'. This disagreement on policy and the interpretation of law would not be the subject of an 'investigation' unless the DHHL or its officials defied such a 'finding'.)
Then, about 9 months after the email directive about blood quantum raised red flags, Jobie Masagatani took over as head of DHHL, and Kauhane's relationship with her new boss worsened. Within months, Kauhane made a written inquiry about whether she was under investigation. Months later, Kauhane asked for a meeting with the governor's chief of staff, Bruce Coppa. Attorney General David Louie showed up, too. Kauhane secretly recorded it….
Hawaiian Homes Commissioner Joe Tassill says he was bullied too -- and alleges the governor did it, with governor's advisor Marvin Wong and Tassill's wife allegedly in the room.
"The first thing the governor tells me is this: 'We're concerned about your health, Uncle Joe.'"
He says the governor tried to get him to leave the DHHL commission for a burial council role instead….
When Tassill turned down the suggestion to leave the commission, Tassill said "they kind of asked me to, knowing how much influence I had, to ask the other commissioners who were in line with not supporting Jobie's appointment to talk with them, and get them to support Jobie. I said, 'They have a mind of their own.'"
Both Tassill and Kauhane assert the attempts to nudge them were meant to clear the way for Masagatani's confirmation to head of DHHL, since these two oppose her among several others.
KHON2 asked the senator on the Hawaiian Affairs committee this: "Do you think the governor is trying to stack the deck just before a confirmation to make it easier for Jobie Masagatani?"….
DHHL says in the course of the investigation into the blood-quantum directive from Kauhane, so far they believe no one has been seriously affected either way -- no kupuna kicked out over Hawaiian-percentage recertification, no waitlister denied their appropriate spot on the 40,000-name-long list.
CB: Hawaiian Home Lands Exec Secretly Recorded AG, Gov Chief of Staff
CB: Michelle Kauhane secretly recorded a meeting she had with Attorney General David Louie and Bruce Coppa, chief of staff. She released the recording Friday in which Coppa offers her $85,000 a year to go to work for the state's homeless agency. Coppa offers to pay for the position out of DHHL funds.
The allegations of improper behavior by Coppa were part of Kauhane's testimony earlier this week before a state Senate panel considering the confirmation of Jobie Masagatani as DHHL director. The panel voted to confirm her without asking any questions about Kauhane's allegations….
"What I would I like to do is I would like to offer you a job, $85,000 and working with Colin Kippen for Hawaiians," Coppa says. "This would be funded through DHHL." Kippen is the state's homeless czar.
Louie goes on to explain that he has been investigating Kauhane for an email that she sent laying out a policy implementing a prohibition on "recertifications" — a complex procedure in which Native Hawaiians who have already qualified for homesteads under the 50 percent blood quantum rule could be denied.
Louie said she could have been violating state law with the policy.
He suggests that if she leaves DHHL and takes the new job they will back off on the investigation.
"Un-frickin'-believeable!" Kuahane exclaims. The conversation becomes very tense.
She calls the offer "an insult."
SA: Bullying is a part of the "unspoken politics" in Hawaii, an ex-official says
Louie, the only other person in the room, told Kauhane that an investigation uncovered evidence that she had issued a directive incompatible with her continuing as DHHL's deputy, and that if she were to take the homeless job, "the incompatibility is not as manifest," according to the recording….
The recording provides an extraordinary peek into how top state officials were dealing with an ongoing controversy at an embattled state agency in which the two top executives were barely speaking to each other and rarely met face to face.
In her testimony at the confirmation hearing, Kauhane said she had never experienced a more hostile work environment than one created by Masagatani.
Kauhane, who was appointed by Abercrombie to the deputy position and applied for but didn't get the director job that eventually went to Masagatani, released copies of the recording to the media. She said she did so to expose what she called an abuse of power in state government that often remains hidden from the public.
"This is not a personal issue," Kauhane told the Star-Advertiser. "This is much bigger. It's not even an issue about Hawaiians."
The bullying and intimidation represent "the unspoken politics of Hawaii that people don't want to believe," Kauhane added. "But when I witness it, it's stunning."
HNN: Fired DHHL deputy director says she was intimidated and insulted
"That's the only way I'm leaving DHHL. You don't want me there, fire me!" Kauhane said on the recording.
She was terminated a few days after the meeting, and told only that her services were no longer needed.
"Seeing it first hand myself was stunning. That even at the highest levels of enforcement, the Attorney General himself, I felt intimidated to be asked to go somewhere else," she said.
FLASHBACK: June, 2011 Kauhane Appointed