City Council should oversee Liquor Commission
A city liquor inspection supervisor and Aloha Stadium's security chief have been indicted on extortion charges.
THE LATEST federal indictment of a city liquor inspector
on extortion charges is yet another piece of evidence that reforms are needed to bring the Honolulu Liquor Commission under greater control. While the alleged misconduct occurred under the previous administrator, the systemic problems call for the City Council to be given meaningful oversight of the agency.
FBI investigators came upon the alleged extortion while conducting wiretaps aimed at gaining evidence about drug trafficking and cockfight gambling, leading to the arrest of an FBI worker, five police officers and 29 others. Agents say they heard Liquor Commission night supervisor James Rodenhurst and Aloha Stadium security chief Herbert Naone discuss receiving money from the nightclub owner.
They are accused of accepting $1,000 a week from May 2004 to January 2005. During that time, Wallace Weatherwax was the commission's administrator. Also under his watch, eight former liquor inspectors were convicted for taking bribes in 2000 and 2001 in exchange for overlooking violations of the liquor code. U.S. District Judge David Ezra called that case the most "open and notorious case of public corruption" he had seen during his 17 years as a judge.
Weatherwax resigned in July, but problems with the commission's liquor investigations were rampant prior to his appointment to the post in 1998. Money laundering, extortion, racketeering and bribery by liquor inspectors and their supervisors occurred in the 1980s.
Myles Breiner, Rodenhurst's attorney, suggests his client was a victim of "a culture of corruption." While that might be a strange defense at trial, his client's alleged criminal activity is consistent with the agency's sordid history.
City Auditor Leslie Tanaka blamed the agency's corruption a year ago on its lack of accountability. He reported that the liquor commissioners "acknowledged that they have little knowledge of staff processes and exercise essentially no oversight over the administrator."
The lack of accountability stems from the creation of the county Liquor Commission by state law. The County Councils have lacked power to exercise much oversight because the commissions are creatures of the state.
City Councilman Charles Djou has proposed that the state allow County Councils to penetrate the commission's wall of autonomy to take remedial action. Gov. Lingle has endorsed the state legislation, which died in last year's legislative session and was not resurrected this year.
Dewey Kim Jr., who was appointed administrator of the Honolulu commission two weeks ago, says he is cooperating with federal authorities, but the test will be whether he can bring needed change to the agency's operation. If not, U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo threatens to seek oversight of the commission, which would be unprecedented federal control of a county law-enforcement agency.