Category Archives: Crime

State Ethics Commission: Guards took $10,00 from Big Island inmate

Earlier this month, the State Ethics Commission disclosed the resolution of a complaint against an ACO (Adult Corrections officer) at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center.

It involves serious allegations of misconduct by these prison guards and leaves many unanswered questions.

The commission alleges Bernie Abella, and two other unnamed ACOs, arranged to take $10,000 from an inmate under their supervision. The inmate signed a power of attorney to one of the ACOs, who then used it to withdraw $10,000 from the inmate’s account in a Kona bank. After depositing the funds in his own account, he then wrote checks to each of the other ACOs involved.

Abella received $3,000, according to the commission.

The commission does not clarify the nature of this exchange. The ethics law prohibits any state official or employee “soliciting, accepting, or receiving a gift if it is reasonable to infer the gift is given to influence or reward the employee in the performance of his or her state duties.” The commission also viewed the case as involving violation of the “Fair Treatment” section of the law, which prohibits using one’s official position “to secure or grant unwarranted privileges, exemptions, advantages, contracts, or treatment, for oneself or others . . . .”

So from the point of view of the commission in enforcing the gift law, it apparently didn’t matter whether the inmate had offered the ACOs money, presumably in exchange for some kind of special favors, or whether the three were using their positions of authority to “shake down” the inmate. The commission resolution doesn’t disclose whether the exchange of funds was related to any exchange of favors or other actions. And, of course, there are other less incriminating possibilities, but in a correctional situation it isn’t unrealistic to suspect the motives of those involved.

We also don’t know why this complaint came to the Ethics Commission, as it would appear to involved potentially criminal actions outside of its jurisdiction. Was any action taken by the Department of Public Safety or any other law enforcement agency? I tried a quick online search but didn’t find anything.

The commission says the case involved a “former inmate.” My guess is that the inmate went to the commission after being released from custody, and perhaps the statute of limitations had already expired for any potential criminal charges. But that’s just guessing.

The commission settled a complaint after the Abella agreed to pay a $1,500 administrative penalty and an additional $3,000 in restitution.

There is no indication of the fate of the additional $7,000 taken from the inmate and whether the commission, or any other agency, is attempting to claw back the additional funds.

And we’re left with questions about what the Department of Public Safety knew, and when did they know it? Did they have knowledge of the situation anytime between the end of 2009 and the present? What action was taken, if any?

According to the commission, Abella’s employment at HCCC ended in January 2010, just a month or so after the money was withdrawn from the inmate’s account and split among the three ACOs, but whether or how that was related to this scheme remains unknown.

Civil lawsuit poses additional problems for police chief and wife

The drawn out family dispute involving Honolulu’s police chief and his prosecutor wife took a big turn this week when an HPD officer involved in the case entered into a plea agreement on federal felony charges and agreed to testify against the couple, and a federal civil lawsuit filed by Katherine Kealoha’s uncle brought additional allegations to the public record.

Since the lawsuit was first reported, I’ve been reading the news stories to find out what attorney had filed the case against the chief and his wife.

As far as I can tell, Civil Beat’s Nick Grube was the only one to report that the case was filed by Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz. Seeing Seitz on the case can’t be good news for the Kealoha’s. He’s an excellent attorney who has a track record in high profile cases like this involving individual rights.

Listed on the complaint along with Seitz are attorneys Della Au Belatti and Sarah Devine. Belatti, of course, is a member of the State House of Representatives elected from District 24, which includes parts of Manoa, McCully, and Makino. She chairs the House Committee on Health, and is also a member of the Judiciary committee. Define, according to her LinkedIn profile, has a speciality in federal civil rights cases.

Click here to read the civil complaint filed against Katherine and Louis Kealoha, courtesy of KHNL.

The complaint is definitely worth reading.

More “target letters” sent by feds in police chief’s case

Hawaii News Now reported last night that the federal investigation of Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife has taken another step forward (“More officers facing charges in federal investigation of HPD chief, wife“).

According to HNN:

According to sources, federal “target letters” have gone out to several people connected to the chief and his wife, Katherine Kealoha.

“When you become a target, you’re being told that you’ve committed a crime, and they’re investigating you and they want you to come in and talk to them,” said attorney William Harrison, represents one of those who received a target letter.

“It’s very serious,” he said, adding that he’s made contact with the federal prosecutor and the FBI agents handling the case.

Here a link to a sample “target letter.”

The sample letter says, in part:

We advise you that the Grand Jury is conducting an investigation of possible violations of federal criminal laws involving, but not necessarily limited to *. You are advised that the destruction or alteration of any document required to be produced before the grand jury constitutes serious violation of federal law, including but not limited to Obstruction of Justice.

You are advised that you are a target of the Grand Jury’s investigation. You may refuse to answer any question if a truthful answer to the question would tend to incriminate you. Anything that you do or say may be used against you in a subsequent legal proceeding.

An online search turns up lots of information about target letters.

One site warns:

“A “target letter” is just what it implies: You are likely going to be indicted, and you better act accordingly.

Another site explains that there are different levels of such letters, and the recipient might be either a “subject” or a “target”.

A grand jury subject is the gray area between a witness and a target. The United States Attorneys’ Manual defines a subject as “a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation.” It means that the government is not actively seeking your indictment but that the government may try to indict you in the future because you engaged in conduct connected to what the grand jury is investigating. Basically, the government has not made up its mind about you. You might be in trouble or you might not.

A grand jury target is someone who is likely to be indicted. According to the United States Attorney’s Manual, a target “is a person as to whom the prosecutor or the grand jury has substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime and who, in the judgment of the prosecutor, is a putative defendant.” This is the most serious category, and it means you are in serious trouble. The most likely outcome is that you will be indicted.

It now seems very clear that this grand jury investigation isn’t going away, and indictments seem likely.

It’s creating more tricky terrain for Mayor Kirk Caldwell just two months before the election.

Subcontractor on state prison plan has history of fraud, abuse

Don’t miss today’s Civil Beat story about Louis Berger, the New Jersey consulting firm hired to study the replacement of the Hawaii Community Correctional Center on Dillingham Boulevard (“Hawaii Prison Contractor Was Convicted Of Fraud And Bribery“).

Check it out. Remember, no more firewall.

The story’s headline just hints at the long list of prior violations by the company selected for the job.

According to Civil Beat, “Architects Hawaii…was awarded a $5 million contract to craft a comprehensive blueprint — complete with proposed designs and potential sites — for the new OCCC.”

And Architects Hawaii, in turn, hired Louis Berger as its subcontractor to do a substantial amount of the actual work.

The problem is that Louis Berger, both the firm and several of its former officers, have been found to have defrauded the federal government of millions in a series of cases over the past decade, most involving overseas work.

And because Berger is a subcontractor to Architects Hawaii, there is little information about its work available and little the state can do about it.

So that’s one problem, spelled out in gory detail by Civil Beat.

But there’s another fundamental problem.

The Public Safety contract was apparently awarded, including crafting “a comprehensive blueprint” for a new prison system, at the same time that a legislatively-mandated task force is meeting to study “effective incarceration policies in Hawaii and other jurisdictions, and suggesting improvements for Hawaii’s correctional system, including recommendations for designs of future correctional facilities.”

It looks like the administration is simply ignoring the legislature’s attempt to take a broader look at the prison system and its needs before proceeding towards construction. Instead of holding off to see what the task force advises, and which (if any) of its recommendations the legislature wants to pursue, Public Safety is launching on its own.

Anyway, good work by CB writer, Rui Kaneya.