Turtle Bay indicts itself in odd turn to union tiff
In the latest twist in a long-running dispute between the Turtle Bay Resort and its employees union, the hotel is painting a lurid scenario of corruption involving illegal bribes it made to union officials and efforts by federal officials, including a judge, to force the bribery to continue.
But if Turtle Bay indeed has bribed union officials, as it claims it has, the resort has not exactly rolled out the red carpet.
The supposed bribes have consisted not of free spa treatments, golf, lavish meals or deluxe hotel suites, but of free parking for union officials who came to the resort on official business.
Whether giving union officials free parking is tantamount to a federal crime has surfaced as a bizarre sideline to Turtle Bay's dispute with the hotel workers' union, Local 5. The bribery issue has spread from administrative hearings on unfair-labor-practice charges against the resort to the local offices of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Turtle Bay has not stopped with accusing itself and the union of federal crimes. The resort also has accused Peter Ohr, a National Labor Relations Board attorney, and Administrative Law Judge Joseph Gontram of "possible criminal acts of aiding and abetting the commission of federal crimes dealing with payment of bribes to union officials," according to a letter sent by Turtle Bay's attorney, Robert Murphy, to the U.S. Attorney's office in Honolulu.
Murphy has sent copies of the letter to local FBI officials in Honolulu and investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor in Honolulu and Washington, D.C.
Local 5 rarely has been reluctant to cast Turtle Bay in a bad light lately, but the resort's latest move, which hardly makes Turtle Bay look good, has the union flummoxed.
"I'm hard put to give you a rational explanation," said Rich McCracken, an attorney for the union. "This is a fundamentally crackpot notion."
To be sure, there have been disputes over free parking for union officials. McCracken said one of the 16 claims in the unfair-labor-practice charges brought by the National Labor Relations Board against the resort is that management unilaterally quit granting the parking privilege to union leaders as a form of retaliation.
To get to the bottom of the matter, Ohr, the NLRB lawyer prosecuting the charges, has subpoenaed resort records concerning the parking privilege, McCracken said. And Gontram, the administrative judge presiding over the case, has ordered Turtle Bay to produce the records, McCracken said.
By making the case that the free parking was illegal, Turtle Bay is trying to move control over the parking dispute away from NLRB officials. According to the resort's letter, Turtle Bay has filed documents with the U.S. Department of Labor notifying the agency that the resort made illegal bribes. This, the resort argues, means that only the FBI and the federal Division of Labor Racketeering -- and not the NLRB -- have jurisdiction over the issue.
In the letter, Murphy says he pointed this out to Ohr and Gontram, who "responded by rejecting any limits on their authority and directing us to enter into an agreement with Local 5 providing for future payments of the same kind."
"The resort will not commit illegal acts at the direction of government officials including those who have no jurisdiction in the matter," Murphy wrote in his letter to Florence Nakakuni, an assistant U.S. attorney in Honolulu.
Nakakuni declined to comment on Murphy's letter. Ohr also declined to comment. Murphy did not return calls.
Contacted by the Star-Bulletin, a Turtle Bay representative said parking rates varied depending on the purpose of the visit. The resort does offer free parking in the back of the parking lot for people going to the beach, the representative said.
Nonetheless, according to Turtle Bay's letter to the U.S. Attorney's Honolulu office, the resort has given away thousands of dollars' worth of parking to union officials. One union business agent alone racked up an estimated $5,000 worth of parking privileges in three years, the letter says. Furthermore, the resort says in the letter, "We have determined that numerous other business agents also received free parking of comparable or greater value over similar periods of time."
McCracken said one weakness of the resort's claim lies with the nature of the federal law banning bribes. The law is meant to prohibit secret bribes intended to sway union leaders, McCracken said. By contrast, he said, the free parking was anything but secret: It was a courtesy given to union officials who were known to be coming to the resort for official business.
In its letter, Turtle Bay acknowledges that "several other hotels in Hawaii" appear to provide free parking for union officials. Turtle Bay said the practice at the other hotels also would amount to "illegal benefits to Local 5 representatives."
Tammy Maeda, regional communications manager for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii, said many employees at the company's 11 properties in the state have the power to validate parking tickets, so it was impossible to say precisely who might have received free parking.
"Certainly we validate parking for certain meetings," Maeda said, "but I can't comment specifically on anything union-related."
McCracken said Murphy's maneuver would have no direct effect on the unfair-labor-practice charges against the resort, but he said he believed the resort was trying to intimidate Ohr and Gontram.
In any case, McCracken said, it seemed an unusual strategy for Murphy to portray Turtle Bay as a felon.
"It's an interesting way to present one's client," McCracken said.