Co-defendant inBy Debra Barayuga
Ewa Villages trial
says he thought
work was legitimate
A co-defendant in the upcoming Ewa Villages trial contends he was duped by fired city housing official Michael Kahapea.
"Mr. (Claude) Hebaru was conned just like the taxpayers were by a high-ranking city official," said David Gierlach, attorney for Hebaru.
Hebaru, 48, yesterday pleaded no contest to two counts of first-degree theft, money laundering and filing false tax returns stemming from false billings for the Ewa Village relocation and one count of first-degree theft involving bogus billings for the Middle Street project.
Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee said a plea agreement was offered because of Hebaru's willingness to cooperate with the city and federal government's investigation into theft of federal funds.
The U.S. Housing and Urban Development reportedly is conducting a separate investigation into the theft of monies to maintain two low-income housing projects -- Kulananani in Kaneohe and Westlake in Salt Lake.
Gierlach said Hebaru was approached by Kahapea, was offered what he believed was legitimate subcontracting work and did what he was asked to do only to learn later the setup wasn't all what it appeared to be.
Gierlach said it wasn't unusual in Hebaru's business to subcontract work to others and receive a "modest payback" with little effort.
He described his client as an upstanding person who had no previous run-in with the law.
Gierlach said Hebaru changed his plea because it's difficult to predict what can happen at trial and because he wanted to put the matter behind him and concentrate on his family and pest-control business.
Hebaru, 48, faces 10 years imprisonment and a possible $20,000 fine on each count of first-degree theft.
The state has agreed not to seek extended terms in this case.
Under the agreement, Hebaru has also agreed to pay restitution.
In a February 1999 indictment, Hebaru was charged with receiving $600,000 in city funds for relocating two businesses from Middle Street between May 1991 and June 1992.
Hebaru, at the request of Kahapea, allegedly set up Titan Moving and Hauling to move Consumer Tire and Hawaii Meat Co. from Middle Street to make way for the city bus barn.
In a May 1998 indictment, Hebaru is charged with receiving $2 million for Titan to relocate nine businesses from the Ewa Village project between October 1993 and June 1997.
Titan Moving, which existed only on paper, never moved the businesses, the city contends. The money Hebaru received was laundered back to Kahapea through local banks at Kahapea's instructions.
Hebaru allegedly received 20-30 percent; Kahapea got 70-80 percent, Lee said in court.
But Gierlach said Hebaru was only paid $70,000 over the seven years and that should be all he should be required to repay.
Hebaru will be sentenced Dec. 13. He is currently free on supervised release.