Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Gary Rodrigues, state director of the United Public Workers, in an aloha shirt, left court yesterday after hearing the guilty verdicts in his fraud and embezzlement trial. Accompanying him were, from far left, daughter and codefendant Robin Haunani Rodrigues Sabatini, daughter Shelly Rodrigues and attorney Doron Weinberg.

Rodrigues guilty

The powerful leader of the UPW
is convicted of defrauding
his union in several ways

The charges
Union reaction
Political impact

By Debra Barayuga

The federal jury that convicted Gary Rodrigues of 101 federal charges of mail fraud, money laundering and embezzlement yesterday will reconvene Wednesday to decide whether the powerful union leader will have to forfeit $308,080 in connection with his crimes.

U.S. District Judge Samuel King ordered the jury this morning to return Wednesday to decide on the forfeiture. The five-man, seven-woman jury found Rodrigues, state director for United Public Workers, guilty yesterday on the charges stemming from union dental and medical contracts.

His daughter Robin Haunani Rodrigues Sabatini, 38, an accountant, also was found guilty, of 95 counts, including mail fraud and money laundering.

Rodrigues and Sabatini face maximum penalties of five years imprisonment for each of the mail-fraud charges and as much as 20 years for each of the money-laundering counts.

The pair remains free on bail.

Referring to news reports of the pair's behavior after the guilty verdicts, King handed out a stern warning this morning.

As Rodrigues left the courtroom yesterday, he directed his young granddaughter's attention to the government prosecutors, saying "remember their faces, remember their faces."

King characterized it as threatening behavior and said it would result in immediate arrest if it occurred in his courtroom during a court session.

King referred to a "fracas" in which Rodrigues grabbed a television reporter's microphone and threw it to the ground.

The judge also said a police officer, who news reports identified as Rodrigues' daughter Shelly, should not have made remarks to the prosecutors.

She told the prosecutors, "Look me in the face. You cannot even look me in the face."

King said, "I would suggest we don't want police officers trying to enforce the law, especially not in this courtroom."

Doron Weinberg, Rodrigues' San Francisco-based attorney, said news report of the incidents were exaggerated.

Weinberg said yesterday that they will appeal.

"This is an unmitigated injustice ... In the more than 30 years that I've been doing this, I don't think I've ever participated in a trial that had more elements of unfairness in it, and I don't think I've ever been party to a verdict that I think was less justified," Weinberg said.

Jurors left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. They had been instructed not to speak to anyone about the case until they have been discharged by the court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni and special attorney Lynn Panagakos of the U.S. Department of Justice could not be reached for comment.

Richard Hoke, Sabatini's attorney, declined comment.

Upon hearing the verdict, Sabatini gasped and began sobbing on her father's shoulder.

"I didn't do anything," she said, crying as he held her.

After King ended the proceedings, more than two dozen supporters flocked to Rodrigues and Sabatini, including Shelly Rodrigues, Gary Rodrigues' other daughter. Some stood teary-eyed in stunned disbelief.

"You happy now?" Sabatini cried across the courtroom to government prosecutors as sister Shelly held her back. "You got us on lies! I hope you can sleep tonight."

For the most part, the Rodrigues and their friends kept mostly silent as a horde of reporters and cameras descended upon them outside the courthouse.

"Get outta here," said Shelly Rodrigues, who walked arm-in-arm with her father.

The trial unexpectedly ended earlier than expected when Weinberg announced to the court a week ago that he was not going to call any witnesses.

Weinberg had argued that the government had failed to prove that Rodrigues, UPW state director since 1981, or his daughter were guilty of any crimes. From the start of trial, the defense had maintained that Rodrigues had always looked out for the interests of the union and did the same for his family.

The government alleged that because of his power and influence as a union leader, Rodrigues negotiated consulting fees into the union's dental and medical contracts without the knowledge of the executive board, then caused the fees to be sent to two companies owned by Sabatini.

Witnesses testified that $14,000 in consulting fees also went to Allan Loughrin, the stepfather of Rodrigues' former longtime girlfriend and secretary, as payment for a loan.

The government also showed that payments made to Sabatini's business accounts later went to her sister Shelly, their grandmother Gertrude Rodrigues, and for the purchase of a truck for Gary Rodrigues.

Rodrigues was also convicted of accepting kickbacks in connection with a welfare-benefit plan that was covered under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The federal act prohibits the acceptance or solicitation of gifts or gratuities.

Herbert Nishida, an agent for Transamerica, which provided life insurance to UPW members, testified that he had given Rodrigues cash payments averaging $25,000 a year over a five-year period in appreciation for UPW's business and the help Rodrigues had given him over the years.

Robert Miller, UPW attorney, declined comment except to say that everything at the 13,000-member union "remains status quo."


Breakdown of charges

Here's a breakdown of the charges against UPW State Director Gary Rodrigues and his daughter Robin Haunani Rodrigues Sabatini. The jury brought guilty verdicts yesterday for all charges except Count 101.

Counts 1-50. Rodrigues/Sabatini: Mail fraud.
Counts 51-55. Rodrigues only: Embezzlement of union funds.
Count 56. Rodrigues/Sabatini: Defrauding a health care benefit program.
Count 57: Rodrigues/Sabatini: Money-laundering conspiracy.
Counts 58-62. Rodrigues/Sabatini: Money laundering.
Counts 63-94. Rodrigues/Sabatini: Money laundering.
Count 95. Rodrigues/Sabatini: Money laundering conspiracy.
Counts 96-100. Rodrigues/Sabatini: Money laundering.
Count 102. Rodrigues only: Accepting kickbacks in connection with an employee welfare-benefit plan.
Count 101. Rodrigues/Sabatini: Forfeiture of $308,080. The jury will continue deliberations on this count today.

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --