Thursday, June 10, 1999

Jury deliberates
in movie equipment
arson case

By Debra Barayuga


Eight years ago today, vehicles belonging to two local movie-equipment companies went up in smoke.

Now, a federal jury has begun deliberations in the conspiracy and extortion trial of Joseph "Joe Boy" Tavares Jr., one of two men charged with setting the trucks and film equipment afire.

Tavares, 42, a member of the Teamsters Union, and George Edward Cambra, 52, were indicted for conspiracy to commit arson.

Prosecutors charged that Tavares, who coordinated transportation and equipment for film producers, and Cambra, president of Cambra Movie Production Trucks Inc., formed an alliance against the only other two local film equipment companies, Mokulua Consultants Inc. and Auto Mastics Inc.

Mokulua and Auto Mastics had been chosen over Cambra's company by mainland movie producers of "The Raven" to provide trucks and equipment for filming in Hawaii. After the fires, Mokulua and Auto Mastics went out of business, and Cambra's company was subsequently hired.

The fires set back the movie industry in Hawaii by two to three years, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Silverberg. Mainland producers leery of dealing with the Hawaii's Teamsters members didn't film here in 1992 and 1993.

Cambra has since pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit arson. The government also dropped firearms and drug charges against Cambra for his testimony.

Cambra testified that he conspired with Tavares to set the fires, but that Tavares and another man torched the trucks belonging to their competitors.

In closing arguments yesterday, Silverberg said Tavares wanted to control the movie and TV production industry in Hawaii through strong-arm tactics and extortion, he said.

Tavares was unemployed and "out of the ballpark" after he aligned himself with a Teamsters faction against then-local union President Harold DeCosta, Silverberg said. Tavares went from "being at the top to being a nobody."

Although he was unemployed and had no source of income, Tavares' bank records showed he made cash deposits in 1991. When asked about the deposits, Tavares had no explanation because he could not admit Cambra was the source of the kickbacks, Silverberg said.

Billy Takaki of Auto Mastics testified that Tavares approached him in 1991 saying times were tough and offered to burn Takaki's trucks for $2,000 to $4,000 to get insurance money.

Tavares' attorney, Richard Hoke, has maintained that Cambra and not his client was responsible for burning the trucks.

Cambra received a "sweetheart" deal for his testimony and is not a credible witness, Hoke said.

Tavares was trying to promote the movie industry and attract producers into filming here and would not have benefited from destruction of the trucks, Hoke said.

Cambra was the one who "rose to the top from the ashes" that was left of Mokulua and Auto Mastics, Hoke said. After the fires, Cambra was the only local company left that could supply mainland producers with trucks and equipment.

As for the extortion charges, Tavares received only 10 percent from Cambra, Hoke said. "If Joe (Tavares) was such a bad man and in control of the trucks, why only 10 percent? Who's afraid of who?"

Tavares testified he was at the movies, then later at home with his girlfriend at the time the fires were allegedly set. He also denied intimidating Cambra and other mainland film officials.

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