Wednesday, July 3, 2002

City liquor inspector
gives details
of bribe plot

An indicted official says they conspired
to collect more cash from bars

By Debra Barayuga

City liquor investigators indicted in May on charges of public corruption shared information about which liquor establishments were paying bribes, allowing them to collect more money and avoid getting caught, according to court documents.

They also agreed, among other things, that each would commit at least two acts of extortion or bribery. Some of the payments exchanged hands in the offices of the Honolulu Liquor Commission, according to the documents.

Details of the conspiracy were outlined in a plea agreement reached yesterday between prosecutors and one of eight current and former Honolulu Liquor Commission employees.

Kenneth Wright, a liquor control investigator, pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy to commit racketeering and three counts of extorting bribes from liquor establishments.

He is the first of the six investigators and two retired supervisors indicted May 24 to change his plea from not guilty. Indicted along with Wright were former supervisors David K.H. Lee and Harvey T. Hiranaka; and liquor investigators Collin M. Oshiro, William B. Richardson Jr., Arthur M. Andres, Samuel K.Y. Ho and Eduardo C. Mina.

Under the plea agreement, Wright has agreed to testify at trial against his co-defendants if asked by the government.

During the period of the indictment -- sometime before October 2000 and continuing until December 2001 -- Wright and his co-defendants on the night shift allegedly received payments ranging from $40 to $1,080 per visit from at least 45 liquor establishments, mostly hostess bars, with the understanding they would overlook violations.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Seabright said Wright and others benefited from each other's participation in the conspiracy because the large number of investigators extorting payments and taking bribes decreased the chances for citations. This made the owners more willing to pay and gave each investigator "greater protection from being discovered by law enforcement," he noted in the plea agreement.

According to the agreement, on Dec. 21, 2000, while in the Honolulu Liquor Commission office, Wright obtained $100 from his supervisor Hiranaka, who told him the money came from Club Ruby. Hiranaka said he got the money from Lee.

In another instance, according to the agreement, Wright obtained payment from Club Sun -- $100 of which he later turned over to another liquor investigator who, unbeknownst to him, was working undercover. Wright gave the unnamed investigator the money because he had overlooked a violation at Club Sun at Wright's request, the agreement said.

Earlier, Wright had told the undercover investigator to "be gentle" with Club Sun, meaning he should not write up any violations. Wright told the investigator that the owner of Club Sun "takes care" -- in other words, pays money to investigators and, if she didn't, "I'll tell her to."

When the undercover investigator visited Club Sun on Dec. 15, 2001, and found a violation, Wright allegedly said, "She going take care of you." Wright told the investigator he informed the owner of Club Sun she had to pay the investigator for overlooking the violation.

Also, on June 22, 2000, in the commission office, Andres allegedly turned over $100 to Wright, saying it was from Club Moonlight.

Wright, according to the plea agreement, treated payments from the establishments as illegal bribes and extortion money, and not as a gift or gratuity. Wright and his attorney, Mark Worsham, could not be reached for comment.

No one from the liquor establishments has been charged with any crime.

Trial for Wright's co-defendants is set for Oct. 16. Wright will be sentenced Jan. 6.

E-mail to City Desk


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