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Wednesday, August 9, 2000

Ex-leader of
union found dead

'Roddy' Rodriguez was indicted
last week on fraud and
tax charges

By Mary Adamski

A former executive director of Unity House and longtime political consultant to Democrats, including Gov. Ben Cayetano, was found dead at home after failing to appear for a federal court arraignment on charges linked to his job at the labor organization.

Police went to the Judd Street apartment of Roderick "Roddy" Rodriguez yesterday at the request of his attorney. They classified his death as an apparent suicide, although the cause of death was not immediately determined.

A federal grand jury last week handed down mail fraud and tax evasion indictments against Rodriguez, 49, and another former Unity House employee. The criminal charges apparently hark back to a 1990s federal case in which four men were convicted of a $10 million investment scam against the labor organization headed by Tony Rutledge.

Rodriguez was a close associate of Rutledge for several years, also serving as communications director of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 5, which Rutledge headed until losing an election earlier this year.

Tony Rutledge, president of Unity House, said today: "The entire Unity House Family is saddened by the sudden death of Roddy. He was a close friend. He had talked recently with members and had given no indication he was thinking of anything so tragic. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Roddy's family. He will be sorely missed."

Rodriguez had a background in island politics that included working as Gov. Ben Cayetano's administrative assistant during Cayetano's last term as a state senator. Rodriguez started on the House Democratic research staff in the early 1970s, and held staff positions with lawmakers including state Rep. Romy Cachola and former state Sen. Lehua Fernandes Salling.

Federal Public Defender Peter Wolff said Rodriguez was indicted about two months ago on similar charges and the superceding indictment by a federal grand jury last week added more counts. "He had already entered a not guilty plea to the same charges," Wolff said.

The attorney said the charges of wire fraud and failure to pay taxes were linked to Rodriguez' Unity House employment but "the indictment is not too specific."

Also indicted was former Unity House consultant Roberta L.K. Cabral, who pleaded not guilty Monday.

Federal Magistrate Barry Kurren postponed Rodriguez' arraignment and plea hearing for a day after he failed to show up in answer to a penal summons.

"We couldn't reach him," said Wolff, who was out of state and didn't talk to Rodriguez last week. Yesterday, the attorney and the U.S. Attorney's Office received letters from Rodriguez. Wolff declined to discuss the contents.

In 1993, Rodriguez resigned from Unity House, which administers $50 million in assets for the benefit of more than 20,000 active and retired members of Local 5 and Teamsters Local 996.

In 1995, a federal court in Tacoma, Wash., convicted Jack Gonzalez, former executive director of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, and three other men of fraud and money laundering in a 1992-93 investment program that prosecutors said was a "ponzi scheme" that defrauded Unity House.

Unity House filed a civil suit against the four defendants, who included former attorney Rodney H.S. Kim, contractor Stafford Mew and Seattle businessman Morreon Rude.

Rodriguez and Cabral were later named as defendants in the Unity House suit. Cabral had testified at the Tacoma trial that she loaned $30,000 to Rodriguez after receiving commissions and loans from North Pacific Investments, the Tacoma firm that put the investment scheme together.

During Rodriguez' association with Rutledge, the two were indicted on federal wiretapping conspiracy charges for an alleged plan to bug a hotel. The charges were dropped when a federal judge suppressed evidence gathered by an FBI wiretap on Local 5 telephones.

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