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Friday, April 28, 2000

Ewa Villages
defendant, Kaahaaina,
gets plea bargain

By Debra Barayuga


Apparently only two people will face trial in the Ewa Villages fraud: Michael Kahapea and Stephen Swift.

That's because another co-defendant, David Brian Kaahaaina, was expected to plead no contest today to charges of theft and money-laundering. Under a plea agreement, he will testify against Kahapea.

The charges stem from an alleged scheme in which the city paid about $6 million for moves that were never done or were done at inflated costs by moving companies created or owned by associates of Kahapea, a former city housing official.

Kaahaaina, president of American Hauling, and a business partner and friend of Kahapea, is charged with billing the city $775,205 to move four businesses.

Kaahaaina faces up to 10 years in prison when sentenced.

Jury selection for what is expected to be a three-month trial in Judge Reynaldo Graulty's courtroom will begin Monday. In all, 11 people were charged in the Ewa Village case.

Two defendants, former city fair housing officer Norman Tam and Russell Williams of RJ Hauling, have since died.

Donna Hashimoto-Abelaye, Claude Hebaru, Donald Hall Sr., Bruce St. Germain, Benton Post and Kenneth Lauahi have reached plea agreements with the state and will testify against Kahapea.

Their sentences will depend on their cooperation in the state's case as well as in any cooperation sought by federal officials in a separate investigation involving two housing projects funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Swift will ask a state judge today that he be tried separately from Kahapea.

Of the 48 charges brought in the May 1998 indictment against Kahapea and seven others, only one involves Swift, his attorney, deputy public defender Todd Eddins said yesterday.

"All the evidence will be directed toward Kahapea and have nothing to do with Swift and, therefore, they should have separate trials," Eddins said.

Swift was one of the tenants who was relocated. He was charged with second-degree theft for overcharging the city $11,000 to relocate Transcend, his demolition business.

Gambling records sought

Swift billed the city $19,000 to move to another Ewa location and pay for needed improvements to its infrastructure.

Eddins said Swift subcontracted about $8,800 worth of renovations and he and his workers did the rest. Swift actually incurred more improvement costs than what he charged the city, Eddins said.

In documents filed in court this week, the state continues to seek records into Kahapea's alleged gambling activities at Nevada casinos.

Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee filed an application for a representative from the Flamingo Hilton and Casino to testify at Kahapea's upcoming trial.

Kahapea allegedly accumulated substantial charges at the Flamingo Hilton, as well as at three other Nevada casinos.

In mid-February, the state requested that representatives from the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, Stardust Hotel and Casino and Rio Hotel and Casino be called to testify at trial.

An executive with Harrah Hotel and Casino, who had contact with Kahapea at the Stardust, and a business partner of Kahapea also have been called to testify.

Records from the Flamingo Hilton casino show Kahapea gambled and accumulated a substantial amount of charges from 1995 to 1997, according to the application filed with the court by Lee.

From 1995 to 1997, the city paid about $6 million to various moving companies to relocate businesses for the Ewa Villages Revitalization Project.

The payments allegedly were deposited into the bank accounts of those companies. Bank records show that "substantial amounts" then were withdrawn in the form of cash and cashier's checks and made payable to various hotels and casinos in Nevada, the documents said.

Kahapea's attorney, Donald Wilkerson, said the prosecutor's latest request is simply another example of the state trying the case in the press.

A state judge earlier this month denied Wilkerson's request for a change of venue for the trial and to remove Lee for prosecutorial misconduct.

Wilkerson, who argued that intensive pretrial publicity has made it impossible for his client to receive a fair trial, said he again expects to raise those arguments.

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