Friday, April 8, 2005

Mitsunaga employee
called for grand jury

Investigators say the worker
directed firms' contributions
to campaign coffers

City prosecutors have convened a new grand jury that will focus on the activities of Dennis Mitsunaga, a key Democratic Party fund-raiser and ally of former Gov. Ben Cayetano.

An Oahu grand jury subpoenaed an employee with the local engineering firm Mitsunaga & Associates Inc. this week for a hearing Thursday, according to people familiar with the investigation.

"(Dennis Mitsunaga) is not in a position to have done what people are accusing him of."

Michael Green
Attorney for Mitsunaga, head of engineering firm Mitsunaga & Associates Inc.

Mitsunaga, who heads the engineering firm, is a major target of prosecutors' three-year investigation into the campaign of former Mayor Jeremy Harris. The employee, Terri Otani, is listed on state business records as secretary, treasurer and director of Mitsunaga & Associates.

Campaign investigators have alleged that Otani helped direct tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from dozens of local engineering firms and architects to the campaigns of Harris, Cayetano, ex-Maui Mayor James "Kimo" Apana and other prominent Democrats.

Mitsunaga has served as fund-raiser for those campaigns.

One of the witnesses called before the grand jury said that the subpoenas for Thursday's hearing are not for an investigative hearing and that the proceedings could result in criminal charges.

Otani said she was unaware of the grand jury proceedings and referred all questions to her attorney Lynn Panagakos, who denied any wrongdoing on her client's part. Panagakos said she is prepared to vigorously defend Otani.

Prosecutors previously disclosed that Mitsunaga was a focus of their three-year criminal investigation of the Harris campaign. Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee said last year that a local engineer told investigators that Mitsunaga was instrumental in securing state and city jobs for him.

Michael Green, Mitsunaga's attorney, said Mitsunaga played no role in the awards of nonbid government contracts and that his client does not know any of the members of the city and state boards that issue contracts.

Green dismissed the allegation as "rumor," saying Mitsunaga was recuperating from a serious illness at the time he was alleged to have influenced the awards of government contracts.

"He's not in a position to have done what people are accusing him of," Green said.

Harris' attorneys have denied any link between the awards of city contracts and campaign contributions.

Otani is the latest member of Mitsunaga's circle to face a criminal investigation.

Mitsunaga's brother Dwight pleaded no contest in October to misdemeanor charges of exceeding campaign spending limits and making a political donation under a false name to the Harris campaign.

Dwight Mitsunaga, who is president of Pacific Architects, was fined $2,000 but was granted a deferral which allows him to get his criminal case dismissed if he stays out of trouble for a year.

Mitsunaga's cousin, former Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawaii Chairman Wesley Segawa, also pleaded no contest to money laundering and making illegal contributions to the Harris campaign last December.

Circuit Judge Richard Perkins fined Segawa $6,000 and ordered him to perform 300 hours of community service.

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