half of the loot
In closing arguments, heBy Gordon Y.K. Pang
paints a boss who took
advantage of trust
Michael Kahapea got about half of the $5.9 million in taxpayer money stolen from a city commercial relocation fund, Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee said in closing arguments of the two-month Ewa Villages theft trial this morning.
As city housing official, Kahapea oversaw the relocation fund in order to route money from city coffers to companies for moves either not done or done at exorbitant rates, Lee said.
Relocation documents were forged, he said, sometimes using blank stationary from the companies that were supposed to be moved.
Lee said Kahapea was able to get away with the scheme for more than four years because he was the acknowledged city expert on relocations.
Lee said that as such, Kahapea had the "unconditional trust" conveyed by his superiors and colleagues.
Donald Wilkerson, Kahapea's attorney, was expected in his closing argument to lay much of the blame on other city officials.
In anticipation of that, Lee said: "The only mistake the city made (is) it gave defendant Kahapea that kind of unquestionable trust -- but why wouldn't they?"
Questions were raised by colleagues and superiors early on, Lee said, but they relied on Kahapea's explanations, based on his experience in the field.
"Whenever there was a question, he had an answer, a legitimate answer in their minds," Lee said. "Even when the City Council had questions about the Ewa Villages project ... they turned around and gave an additional $2 million" to the fund, Lee said.
Wilkerson, Lee argued, could say all he wants about how Kahapea was just doing his job and had diverted much of the money toward cleaning up of Ewa Villages wastes sites.
"But if he was just doing his job, why would defendant Kahapea have to lie?" Lee said.
Because of his years of experience with city relocations, Lee said, Kahapea was able to create "a machine" that churned out money for him and his accomplices.
"This was a machine not based on need, this was a machine based on greed," he said.
As more questions were raised, the lies and deception increased "even if he had to lie and involve his family," Lee said, noting that a stepdaughter and nephew were among those he enlisted to cash city checks, without telling them what they were for.