4 men found guilty in airport fraud
Two airport officials and two contractors defrauded the state of millions of dollars
A federal jury convicted two former airport officials and two contractors of conspiracy and mail fraud yesterday in a bid-rigging scheme at Honolulu Airport.
The jury deliberated for just more than six hours to unanimously find Dennis Hirokawa, 64, former superintendent of airport maintenance; Richard Okada, 65, former director of the Visitor Information Program; and contractors Michael Furukawa, 60, and Wes Uemura, 61, guilty of conspiracy.
In addition, Hirokawa was found guilty of 17 counts of mail fraud; Furukawa, 19 counts; and Uemura, 15 counts.
All four defendants were stoic as the court clerk read the guilty verdicts. Relatives in the audience dabbed at their eyes and wept in the courtroom.
Each of the defendants faces five years' imprisonment on the conspiracy count and five years on each of the mail fraud counts when sentenced Jan. 15. U.S. District Judge David Ezra agreed to allow the men to remain free on bail.
U.S. attorney Larry Tong and state Deputy Attorney General Larry Goya prosecuted the case. The four men were "engaged in an elaborate scheme to abuse the public contracting process and caused economic damage to taxpayers," Tong said.
The environment of "pay to play" that the defendants subscribed to "caused a loss of faith in the integrity of state government that can't be measured in dollars and cents," he said.
Dana Ishibashi, attorney for Okada, said only that they were disappointed and will be exploring their options, including whether to appeal.
Defense attorney Howard Luke declined comment.
The verdict brings to an end a joint federal-state investigation that began more than six years ago by the state Attorney General after airport auditors learned the state was billed $14,000 for constructing four 6-foot-long plywood planter boxes to hold poinsettias during the holidays.
Prosecutors alleged that the four conspired from 1997 to 2002 to obtain $4.8 million in small-purchase contracts under $25,000, a less formal process that requires that three bids be submitted and the work awarded to the lowest bid.
The contracts were mostly awarded to six companies owned by Furukawa and Uemura, prosecutors said. A government expert who reviewed 171 of the jobs that paid contractors $1.4 million valued the work as worth only $380,000.
Tong said he is expects to ask the court to order the defendants to repay $2.5 million.
A civil proceeding is also under way in state court seeking to forfeit property owned by the defendants.
Charles Goodwin, special agent in charge of the FBI here, said he hopes the convictions serve as a deterrent. "And as time goes by and we pursue more and more corruption, more and more people will step forward because they see the government serious about taking it on at the state and federal level," he said.