— ADVERTISEMENT —
Thursday, January 20, 2005
The former head of one of Hawaii's largest engineering firms was fined $2,500 and granted a deferral of his no-contest plea to campaign donation violations yesterday.
Larry Matsuo, 78, retired president of Park Engineering Inc., pleaded no contest last year to money laundering and making political contributions under a false name.
He is one of more than a dozen top engineering executives who have been charged in the past two years with making illegal contributions to the campaign of former Mayor Jeremy Harris.
Matsuo could have faced a maximum of five years on the money-laundering count.
According to prosecutors, Matsuo gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to family, friends and employees of Park Engineering for the purpose of political contributions. The investigation revealed that from 1996 to 2001, substantial sums were being funneled to prominent political candidates, including $160,000 to the Harris campaign, under other people's names to circumvent the law, Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee said.
When questioned, Matsuo cooperated with the investigation and provided a list of contributions made not only to Harris, but to the political campaigns of former Gov. Ben Cayetano, ex-Maui Mayor James "Kimo" Apana and former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono.
Under state law a donor can contribute a maximum of $4,000 to a mayoral candidate or $6,000 to a gubernatorial candidate in a four-year election cycle.
Lee opposed a deferral and asked for the maximum five-year term of imprisonment. He argued that Matsuo's conduct undermined the electoral process by giving candidates financial advantage over other candidates and eroded the public's confidence in the process.
Darwin Ching, Matsuo's attorney, said his client cooperated fully, was remorseful and had accepted responsibility. "He didn't hold back. He admitted what happened."
Numerous letters of support from Matsuo's family and associates describe him as an honorable man who has led an honorable life except for this blemish, Ching said. "We ask that he be allowed to enjoy his golden years without a criminal record."
In granting a deferral that would allow Matsuo to keep his record clean if he stays out of trouble for five years, Circuit Judge Richard Perkins ruled that Matsuo was not likely to engage in criminal conduct again and that a deferral would not undermine the interests of justice.
Letters submitted to the court describe a man who got caught up in a situation that had been allowed to go on, and was caught, Perkins said.
"There's no indication of malice or criminality in these contribution violations," he said.