Friday, November 21, 2003

5 more indicted
in Harris probe

A Big Isle election official
is among a group linked to
an isle engineering company

An Oahu grand jury investigating illegal contributions to Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris' campaign indicted five people linked to local engineering firm R.M. Towill Corp., including an official in charge of Big Island elections.

In a seven-count indictment yesterday, the 16-member secret panel charged Hawaii Deputy County Clerk Jay Mende and his mother, Masae Mende, with the misdemeanors of making excessive political donations and making contributions under a false name.

The grand jury also indicted Towill Vice President Kenneth Sakai, local architect John Adversalo and hardware supplier Daniel Rosario on similar charges.

The counts against Sakai are in addition to a Nov. 5 indictment against the engineer for making false-name and excessive contributions.

If convicted, each faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

Jay Mende did not return a call to his office. An attorney for Sakai had no immediate response, and Adversalo's lawyer could not be reached. Rosario declined comment.

Jay Mende, who was appointed deputy county clerk last year, manages the day-to-day operations of the county's election office. He is the third local government official to face criminal charges stemming from the prosecutor's investigation into the Harris campaign.

Earlier this year, Honolulu Police Commissioner Leonard Leong and Community Services Department Director Mike Amii pleaded no contest to similar charges.

Mende is the brother of Big Island painting contractor Donn Mende, who was indicted Nov. 5 for allegedly making excessive contributions and false-name donations to Harris' campaign.

Between 1997 and 2000, Jay Mende contributed $4,300 to Harris while Masae Mende gave $4,000 to Harris, state campaign spending records show. Jay Mende's brother Donn gave $5,400 to Harris during the same period.

At the time of his contributions, Jay Mende worked as an accountant at Hilo Engineering Inc.

Adversalo, president of Towill subcontractor Architects Pacific Inc., is linked to $11,000 in political donations to the Harris campaign, while Rosario and his wife, Barbie, contributed $6,000 to Harris.

Prosecutors alleged Sakai reimbursed the Mendes for their political donations with cash. They also believe that Adversalo and Rosario made a number of donations through several relatives and friends.

Sakai and Jay Mende are partners in the Hilo investment company Mende Partners, according to state business records.

Under state law a donor can give no more than $4,000 to a mayoral candidate and $6,000 to a gubernatorial candidate during a four-year election cycle. Contributors also are barred from giving money to political candidates under false names.

Earlier this month, the grand jury also indicted Towill Vice President Roy Tsutsui, company comptroller Nancy Matsuno and former comptroller Robert Ko for allegedly funneling illegal political donations to Harris.

A study by the Star-Bulletin in October linked Towill and its subcontractors to more than $300,000 in political donations to the Harris campaign since 1996. The Towill firm, one of the state's largest engineering firms, received more than $30 million in nonbid city work during the same period.

Since January 2002, city prosecutors have obtained criminal charges against a dozen local donors to the Harris campaign.


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