Tuesday, December 7, 1999

Judge allows official
indicted for fraud in
Ewa Villages case to
go on ocean cruise

By Debra Barayuga


A Circuit Court judge has given permission for fired city housing official Michael Kahapea to go on a three-day interisland cruise, over the state's objections.

Circuit Judge Richard Perkins yesterday gave the go-ahead to Kahapea, who is leaving Dec. 18 and returning Dec. 21 on a cruise that will make stops in Nawiliwili and Kahului.

This is the third time Kahapea has been allowed to leave the island since he was indicted last year for his alleged role in the Ewa Villages fraud which allegedly cost the city between $5 million and $6 million.

Deputy Prosecutor Randy Lee argued that Kahapea has been charged with laundering a substantial amount of cash through family members. He questioned the source of the funds that paid for the trip and the appropriateness of Kahapea going on a pleasure cruise in light of the charges.

Kahapea's sister, who is sponsoring him during his supervised release pending a May 1 trial, apparently paid for the trip.

She is associated with a travel agency where trips were purchased through her by a co-defendant in the Ewa Villages fraud, Lee said. That co-defendant, Russell Williams, has since died.

But Kahapea's attorney, Don Wilkerson, said if the state has any evidence of wrongdoing regarding the source of the trip, prosecutors should reveal it.

Wilkerson said the state won't be unable to prove at trial that Kahapea stole the $5 million or $6 million he's accused of taking.

Kahapea has been allowed by the courts on two previous occasions to leave Oahu for a trip to Hilo and to Seattle for his son's wedding, Wilkerson said. Kahapea also has complied with all the conditions of his supervised release, including surrendering his passport and obtaining work.

Kahapea currently works as a limousine driver.

In granting Kahapea permission, Perkins considered whether Kahapea is a danger to the community or poses a risk of flight.

None of those conditions exist, he said, adding that Kahapea hasn't gone to trial yet and is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

Prosecutors allege Kahapea was the mastermind behind a scheme in which he had friends and family set up bogus moving companies to bill the city for work that was never done or done at inflated costs at three city projects.

Kahapea yesterday declined to comment. Wilkerson said after the hearing that prosecutors are looking in the wrong place.

"If they're looking for $5, $6 million, they better look somewhere else because Kahapea didn't take it," Wilkerson said.

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