Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Judge defers jail
for former HPD major

A former police major who pleaded no contest to second-degree theft in the Honolulu Police Department's receiving desk food scandal will serve no jail time.

Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto granted a request by retired police Maj. Jeffrey Owens yesterday to defer his plea for a period of five years.

Sakamoto cited Owens' character and service to the HPD and the community. He also ordered Owens to pay restitution of about $746 and perform 100 hours of community service.

Owens' sentencing caps an investigation that uncovered unauthorized purchases of food by the Central Receiving Division under the command of then-Maj. Rafael Fajardo and later Owens.

In April, Fajardo pleaded no contest to second-degree theft and was also granted a deferral. He retired as an assistant chief. If Owens and Fajardo stay out of trouble for five years, their records could be wiped clean.

Two civilian workers charged in the case also received deferrals of their pleas and will serve no jail time.

Funds budgeted to buy food for inmates were instead used to buy meats such as beef ribeye, top sirloin steak, rack of lamb, ham, turkey, chicken and various breakfast meats that were served to officers.

Meanwhile, prisoners continued to be fed sandwiches or airline-type meals that required only reheating.

Owens had admitted in March, just days before he was to go to trial, that on two occasions he allowed about $700 worth of beef and Thanksgiving turkey to be purchased and consumed by police officers.

He said he did so to improve morale and overall operations in the cellblock.

He also said he felt he had the discretion to authorize the purchases and that his superiors approved of and were aware of his actions.

"If I had thought it was wrong at the time, I wouldn't have done it," he said

Prosecutors opposed the deferral, saying Owens breached the public's trust. Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee asked for probation, saying a deferral would diminish the seriousness of the offense and send a wrong message to the community.

Marc Greenwell, who served as major of the Central Receiving Division from June to December 1998 after Fajardo was transferred, said he never saw any police officers consume food nor saw any unauthorized purchases of foods during his short stay.

Greenwell, who attended yesterday's sentencing, questioned where the hundreds of pounds of chicken roasters, hams, pork loins, ribeye steaks and turkeys went since officers weren't eating them and the Central Receiving kitchen had no room to store them.

He said it wasn't until a year after he retired that he learned about the food purchases.

"Jeff Owens knew taking money from the HPD budget that was supposed to go to prisoner food and buying items -- a ridiculous list of high-quality items -- was wrong," Greenwell said.

He said Police Chief Lee Donohue and administrators above Fajardo and Owens should be held accountable for allowing the abuses to go unchecked.

Greenwell said Donohue appointed him to take over command of the Central Receiving Division after Fajardo was transferred and at a time when overtime abuse was at its worst and the department's budget was in shambles.

He said he did his best to fix the problems and managed to bring overtime well below allotments but was forced to retire because of a lack of support from his superiors.

Greenwell said it's ironic that the two officers responsible for the worst division overtime record and illegal diversion of food funds never faced administrative penalties and instead were promoted to high-power positions.

Donohue, who is out of town on business, said through a spokeswoman yesterday that he was surprised at Greenwell's comments. He said Greenwell was a good commander, did a commendable job while at the Central Receiving Division and that he was surprised when Greenwell decided to retire.


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