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Friday, December 10, 1999




Grand jury
indicts Wong
for perjury

The former Bishop Estate
chairman's attorney vows
fights in state, U.S. courts

By Rick Daysog
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

Less than a week after he permanently resigned from his $1 million-a-year post, an Oahu grand jury indicted former Bishop Estate Chairman Richard "Dickie" Wong on perjury charges.

An attorney for Wong called the criminal proceedings a "vindictive" move and said he would challenge the indictments in state court and may pursue a federal court suit for wrongful prosecution.

Yesterday, the grand jury charged that the 67-year-old former state Senate president provided false testimony when he went before the secret panel in April.

The grand jury -- directed by the state attorney general's office -- also charged Wong's former brother-in-law, Jeffrey Stone, with perjury, saying he provided false testimony in his testimony before the panel earlier this year.

State prosecutors and attorneys for Wong and Stone will work out the details of their surrender and arraignment.

If convicted, Wong and Stone face up to five years in prison and fines of $10,000 for each count. Bail has been set at $1,000.

"What these counts allege is that both Mr. Wong and Mr. Stone provided false testimony to the grand jury," said Senior Deputy Attorney General Lawrence Goya.

Goya said the perjury charges involved testimony by Wong and Stone about the estate's sale of its fee interest in the 219-unit Kalele Kai condominium project to a partnership affiliated with Stone. A previous grand jury in April indicted Wong for theft, conspiracy and perjury, and Stone for commercial bribery and conspiracy, saying Stone acquired Wong's Makiki apartment for an inflated price in exchange for preferential treatment on the Kalele Kai deal.

Both denied wrongdoing, and Circuit Judge Michael Town dismissed the charges in June, saying the state relied on the "illegally bolstered" testimony of Stone's former attorney, Richard Frunzi. Frunzi is serving time in a mainland prison after pleading guilty to a federal money laundering charge.

Wong, a Bishop Estate trustee since 1993, was subpoenaed earlier this week to appear before the new grand jury, but he declined to do so on the advice of his attorney. Stone also refused to testify.

Wong, who was temporarily removed from the Bishop Estate by Probate Judge Kevin Chang in May, resigned permanently from the 114-year-old charitable trust last Friday, avoiding a Dec. 13 trial over his permanent removal.

Eric Seitz, Wong's attorney, said he was "disturbed" by the attorney general's actions, saying the state has no basis to charge Wong criminally but continues to harass him, even after he resigned from the Bishop Estate and after Town threw out the earlier indictments.

He likened the state's strategy to the practice of former President Richard Nixon and his attorney general, John Mitchell, of bringing political enemies before grand juries on cooked-up charges. When the initial criminal charges could not be proven, Mitchell convicted the defendants on perjury charges, Seitz said.

Seitz said the state's perjury charges are based on several "ambiguous" telephone messages between Wong and Stone indicating that they spoke to each other in 1994, 1995 and 1997. In his April grand jury appearance, Wong testified he did not speak with Stone about the Kalele Kai transaction. Wong also testified that he recused himself from all Bishop Estate actions regarding that deal.

While the telephone messages show the two relatives spoke to each other regularly, it doesn't show that they "conspired" or worked together on the Kalele Kai deal, Seitz said.

"They would bring any charge they could. If they could charge him with shoplifting, they would," Seitz said.

"Eventually, we're going to fight this out in a federal court context, and it's going to cost these individuals dearly and may cost them their licenses to practice law."

Goya denied any vindictiveness on the part of the attorney general's office, saying it was motivated by evidence it discovered. He declined comment on case specifics.

Stone's lawyer, John Edmunds, also declined comment.



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