Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Maui cop makes
bail in ‘ice’ case

His mother describes his associations
as getting him in trouble

By Leila Fujimori

A federal magistrate released a Maui police officer accused of being part of an international drug ring into the custody of his wife yesterday after he posted $50,000 bail.

James Mateaki was indicted for allegedly providing confidential information from the Maui Police Department to others charged in the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Muehleck did not object to Mateaki's release by Magistrate Kevin Chang.

Meanwhile, most of the others charged, including two former St. Louis School football standouts, remain in federal custody without bail. Detention hearings for several suspects including Silila Malepeai, who played defensive line until 1990, and Tasi Malepeai, an offensive lineman with St. Louis until 1992, were continued to Friday.

The FBI recently arrested 40 suspects who allegedly were part of a drug-trafficking organization between the West Coast, Hawaii and the South Pacific, responsible for supplying at least half the crystal methamphetamine or "ice" on Maui.

Maui Police Chief Tom Phillips said Mateaki did not appear to be one of the main distributors of the drugs, nor was he handling or using drugs.

"But he did have a role in this, and I believe he did profit from it," Phillips said. "In his mind he didn't do anything wrong -- he was doing a favor for a friend. We feel there's more than that."

Phillips criticized the media for focusing on Mateaki, rather than the break-up of a major drug ring on Maui.

"Every crime we have (on Maui) goes back to this drug problem," Phillips said.

He said drugs contribute to property crimes and assaults.

"A lot of violent crimes relate to crystal methamphetamine," Phillips said.

When asked if any other police officers were investigated in connection with the drug operation, Phillips answered: "No others have been identified in this investigation, to this point anyway."

Phillips described Mateaki as a pretty good officer, a patrolman in Wailuku and a member of the special-response team, which handles hostage situations and high-profile search warrants.

"He's a very friendly guy, actually a very popular officer among the ranks, a nice person," he said.

Mateaki, who has spent 8 1/2 years with the Maui Police Department, is on leave without pay from the department.

His mother Lynne Mateaki said, "Because of his misjudgment -- having friends like he does, which goes back a long way -- it's just his association that got him in trouble," she said.

Faatali Malepeai, wife of another defendant, Amako Malepeai, was also released on Monday to the custody of her mother. Her lawyer described her as a housewife with four kids.

Another St. Louis graduate, Leslie Kekahuna, who served as a volunteer coach with the school last year, was denied release yesterday. His lawyer said he had no criminal record, is a church-goer and a model citizen.

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