Saturday, September 25, 2004

Fund-raiser accused
of rigging contracts

A contractor says he made
contributions to get
government work

City prosecutors alleged that a key political fund-raiser and longtime ally of former Gov. Ben Cayetano solicited political contributions from a local engineer in exchange for government contracts.

During a hearing in state District Court yesterday, Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee said local engineer George Nishimura, who pleaded no contest to making an illegal contribution to Mayor Jeremy Harris' campaign, recently told investigators that political fund-raiser Dennis Mitsunaga "was instrumental in securing state and city jobs" for him.

The disclosure represents the first acknowledgment by a local contractor that he made political contributions to get government work.

Nishimura, president of the local structural engineering firm of Nishimura, Katayama & Oki, made no comment as he left the courtroom. His lawyer Dwight Tanaka also had no comment.

Attorneys for the Harris campaign have denied any link between political contributions and the awards of city contracts.

Michael J. Green, Mitsunaga's attorney, said his client has been around politics for many years and as a result has become a target of "all kinds of innuendo."

Green said Mitsunaga hasn't spoken to Nishimura in nearly 10 years. Green said he was concerned that somebody may have improperly used Mitsunaga's name to solicit Nishimura for a contribution.

Mitsunaga, who heads the engineering firm of Mitsunaga & Associates, has been a fund-raiser for the campaigns of Harris, Cayetano and ex-Maui Mayor James "Kimo" Apana. He also raised $35,000 for nonprofit groups such as the Friends of the City & County of Honolulu and the Environmental Foundation, which support Harris' initiatives.

Earlier this month, prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges against Mitsunaga's brother, local architect Dwight Mitsunaga, for allegedly making illegal political contributions to the Harris campaign.

Both Dwight and Dennis Mitsunaga are targets of a separate, civil investigation by the state Campaign Spending Commission.

Lee's comments came during arraignment for Nishimura, who pleaded no contest to charges that he made a political contribution to the Harris campaign under a false name and exceeded the $4,000 campaign donation limit for the mayor's race.

District Judge Lono Lee ordered Nishimura to pay $2,000 for the misdemeanor violations but granted the engineer a deferral, which allows his criminal case to be dismissed if he stays out of trouble for a year. The deferral came after prosecutors said Nishimura cooperated fully with their investigation.



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