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Monday, February 9, 2004



Alleged shooter has
roots in old isle
underworld

One Pali Golf Course murder
suspect comes from a legendary
Waianae crime family

SECOND IN A SERIES


IMAGE Rodney V. Joseph, allegedly one of the shooters in the Pali Golf Course murders last month, came of age in Waianae during a legendary era when crime bosses ordered the execution of competitors by a bullet to the head and informants were buried alive in the sands of Maili Beach.

Joseph, 35, a professional kickboxer, is charged with first- and second-degree murder in the killing of Lepo Utu Taliese, 44, and Lawrence "Romelius" Corpuz, 39, at the Pali Golf Course Jan. 7.

He is also charged with the attempted murder of Tino Sao, Corpuz's brother. Charged with the same counts are Ethan Motta, 34, of Hilo, and Kevin A. "Pancho" Gonsalves, 33, of Oahu.

The Joseph family of Waianae is part of the storied past of Hawaii's underworld of the 1960s through the mid-1990s, which was vividly described in scores of news accounts.

Federal informants called Charles "Charlie" Stevens, who is Joseph's uncle on his mother's side, a drug lord and "the man" on the Waianae Coast for more than 20 years. Stevens, also known as "Uncle Charlie" or "Old Man," regularly cruised his domain with his lieutenants in a black Lincoln Continental with dark-tinted windows.

Stevens, who was married to Joseph's aunt Aletha "None" Stevens, had a taste for one of his own products, heroin, and died in 1999 of cardiac arrest in a federal prison in Pennsylvania at age 56.

In the early 1990s, Stevens was the target of a state and federal investigation that ultimately sent him to federal prison as part of a plea agreement.

He pleaded guilty to racketeering and confessed to drug trafficking, murder and bribing a state judge to reverse a guilty verdict in a double murder.

Affidavits that were part of the Stevens investigation alleged that young Rodney Joseph and two of his uncles, Terrance "Anthony" Joseph and Jeffrey Joseph, were part of the Stevens organization. Terrance was at one point married to Aletha Stevens, and together they had a daughter who was raised in Stevens' home.

Despite their mention in the investigation, neither Rodney Joseph nor his two uncles were charged in connection with the Stevens investigation.

One FBI affidavit described an incident involving Rodney Joseph when he was barely 20. The 1990 affidavit supporting an FBI wiretap of Stevens recounted how Joseph allegedly helped his uncle retrieve two pounds of crystal methamphetamine, or "ice," from a hotel room.


art
STAR-BULLETIN FILE PHOTOS
Rodney Joseph's uncle, gangster "Uncle Charlie" Stevens, bottom left, was the target of a state and federal investigation that ultimately sent him to prison, where he died in 1999. Other crime figures of the day included hit men Ronnie Ching, bottom right, who confessed to burying a government informant alive in the sand at Maili Beach; and Henry Huihui, at left in top photo, shown in court in 1984.


The affidavit said that Mervin "Charlie" Chan "froze up and died while mainlining crystal methamphetamine in the Plaza Hotel near the airport on Dec. 31, 1988." A man who witnessed the overdose allegedly called Stevens, who came to the room.

With the help of Joseph, Stevens allegedly retrieved the ice that had been smuggled by Chan's girlfriend from South Korea.

Stevens was one of several high-profile crime bosses during the mid-1980s and early 1990s whose underworld activities were exposed in front-page news accounts of sensational trials and mobsters turning government witness.

In 1984, Charles Marsland was an outspoken and controversial city prosecutor who was out to nail organized crime. But Marsland's mission had a personal edge: He wanted to find out who had murdered his 19-year-old son, Charles "Chuckers" Marsland III, early one morning in Waimanalo with a police service revolver.

Marsland was haunted by the murder and believed his son heard something at his nightclub job that led to his death. He was often accused of pursuing the prosecutor's job so he could avenge his son's death.

In 1984 the intensive work of Marsland's organized-crime strike force and federal investigators pinned two major underworld figures: Ronald Kainalu "Ronnie" Ching and Henry Huihui.

Ching, who turned witness for Marsland and the state, was considered a ruthless hit man and the state's foremost contract killer who bore no allegiance to any crime boss. They said he killed for money, favor and sport.

Ching pleaded guilty in 1981 to federal firearm and narcotics violations and was serving a 21-year prison sentence on the mainland when he was indicted for the 1978 murder and kidnapping of Arthur K. Baker, a government informant. He was also involved in drug trafficking and prostitution in Chinatown.

And finally he told all to the government.

Ching, who like Stevens was fond of heroin, once told undercover investigators in a taped conversation that he first "made his bones" (killed a person) at age 16. He eventually pleaded guilty to killing four of 20 people he admitted to investigators he murdered.

Ching claimed he killed Chuckers Marsland on April 17, 1975. Marsland, a Punahou graduate who was attending Chaminade College, left his job as assistant manager of the Infinity disco in Waikiki at 4:30 a.m. His body was found in Waimanalo.

Ching confessed to the Nov. 13, 1978, murder of Baker, who was handcuffed and dragged out of a cocktail lounge on Kalakaua Avenue and then buried alive in the sand at Maili.

Ching also confessed to being a lookout in the sensational 1970 murder of state Sen. Larry Kuriyama, 49, who was gunned down in the carport of his Aiea Heights home while his wife and five children watched television inside.

Ching also said he executed Robert "Bobby" Fukumoto, a major crime figure turned police informant. Ching said he shot Fukumoto 10 times in the back with an automatic rifle while he stood inside a Kapiolani Boulevard bar in May 1980.

On Aug. 23, 1985, Ching was sentenced to four life terms for the four murders.

At the same time Ching talked to the police, Huihui turned informant for the federal government.

Targeted by another state and federal investigation, Huihui ran a group called "The Company," which was formed during the 1970s by legendary crime boss Wilford "Nappy" Pulawa.

Huihui was indicted in April 1984 on federal racketeering charges of gambling and extortion, as well as state charges of murder.

Huihui pleaded guilty to racketeering and to the 1977 murders of David Riveira, a gambler, and Joseph Lii, a labor leader.

Huihui told prosecutors he killed Riveira because he turned police informant and had assaulted a member of his family. Riveira was killed outside a Nuuanu gambling house. His hands were tied behind his back, and Huihui said he shot him in the head with a gun fixed with a silencer. Others present then fired their weapons into Riveira.

Huihui said he gunned down Lii outside the offices of the Inland Boatmen's Union and within earshot of his wife and children. Huihui said he executed Lii because of a power struggle among union factions.

Huihui and Ching were both used unsuccessfully to go after former Honolulu police officer Larry Mehau, who lived on the Big Island and was publicly labeled by one of Marsland's staff in the late 1970s as the "godfather" of organized crime in Hawaii.

Mehau, who was close to former Gov. George Ariyoshi, was the target of a federal and state investigation code named "Firebird." Mehau was never convicted.

For more than 20 years, Stevens controlled the Waianae Coast until he was sent to prison in 1993.

During the state and federal investigation of Stevens, Paciano "Sonny" Guerrero, once the kingpin of the state's largest "ice" ring, told investigators that Stevens was "the man" on the Waianae Coast who controlled criminal activity across Oahu, according to a July 16, 1990, affidavit filed by the FBI to support a request for continued wiretappings of Stevens' organization.

Guerrero, convicted of selling more than $7 million of ice between 1987 and 1988, was one of Stevens' ice suppliers. Guerrero, who was serving a 25-year prison term, told investigators "that anyone who wants to deal drugs or conduct any other criminal activities in the Waianae area of any significance must have the blessings of Charlie Stevens and his organization."

The federal investigation of Stevens led to his end.

In 1991, Stevens was indicted on federal drug and firearm charges. The government said Stevens, with the aid of his wife, was at the center of a secretive and well-organized drug operation that trafficked in "ice," heroin and marijuana. He was also charged with extortion and possessing an unregistered automatic submachine gun and silencers for automatic weapons.

In a subsequent June 1992 indictment, Stevens was also charged with 39 additional counts of racketeering acts for kidnapping, witness tampering and firearms possession.

In the months leading up to Stevens' and his wife's Oct. 28, 1992, racketeering trial, key members of Stevens' organization, who had been indicted along with him, copped plea agreements and turned on Stevens.

Minutes before their own trial opened, Stevens and his wife pleaded guilty to several charges relating to their drug distribution ring and agreed to talk.

One of Stevens' first acts was to confess to participating in a notorious 1978 double murder of two alleged drug dealers and subsequently bribing a circuit judge to overturn an Oahu jury's 1981 guilty verdict. Stevens' confession solved a case that had taunted prosecutors for 14 years.

Stevens admitted that on April 6, 1978, he shot Patricia L.S. Stevens (no relation), 32, in the head with a .45-caliber handgun and that he participated in the disposal of Stevens' body and that of Conrad Maesaka, 27, who was killed at the same time.

The bodies were dismembered, and the gun was cut into pieces, melted with a blowtorch and tossed into the ocean.

During Stevens' 1981 trial for the double murder, three young Waianae men, who were enlisted by Stevens to help get rid of the bodies, testified against him. Stevens' defense was that the men killed the couple and were framing him.

According to trial testimony, Stevens shot the woman in the stomach and, as she begged "No, Charlie, no," he shot her in the head. The men testified that Stevens ordered them to take the bodies to the back of the Waianae Valley. They testified that the night after the murder, Stevens, gun in hand, supervised them. He instructed them to dismember the bodies with cane knives, throw the parts into five trash bags and bury them in a grave camouflaged with leaves.

The jury convicted Stevens of the murder on March 26, 1981. But in a stunning decision that stirred angry accusations, Judge Harold Shintaku overturned the verdict on September 28, 1981, claiming the evidence was not there to convict.

Shintaku was harshly criticized. On Oct. 6, 1981, he made public his written argument for acquittal. That night, police arrested him for drunken driving, and the next morning his relatives found him in a family-owned beach cottage at Mokuleia with multiple skull fractures and a broken collarbone. Shintaku said he believed he had been beaten after he passed out. Police said he hurt himself in a fall during a botched attempt to hang himself.

In 1983, Shintaku retired from the bench. The judge was arrested in a 1987 raid on an Alewa Heights teahouse in the company of Earl K.H. Kim, who controlled gambling during that era.

Shintaku pleaded guilty to gambling charges in 1988. A year later he was found dead after apparently slitting both wrists and jumping from the third floor of the Stardust Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. It was never clear whether he committed suicide or was murdered.

Stevens confessed in 1992 that his brother, Richard "Dickie" Stevens, who had since died, bribed Shintaku. Stevens said Shintaku had gambling debts and that the bribe was made and accepted before the double murder trial ever began.

On May 12, 1993, federal Judge David Ezra sentenced Stevens to 20 years without parole. He told the court that Stevens' prosecution ended "a criminal organization that operated almost unchecked on the Waianae Coast for over 20 years."

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