CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Henry Calucag is on trial for identity theft for allegedly using the identity of an acquaintance who vanished and whose body was found in the Philippines. The trial started yesterday.
Title was forged for theft, jury told
The defense counters that an HPD lab says the signature is real
A trial got under way yesterday in Circuit Court for a Honolulu man accused of stealing the identity and property of a well-to-do Kauai man.
Kauai resident John Elwin went to the Philippines to buy a condominium through Henry Ponce Calucag Jr. but never returned. His body was found in May 2006 along a road near Manila.
Police said they are investigating the disappearances of two other men who went to the Philippines with Calucag.
Calucag is accused of using a forged document to get title to Elwin's plot of land on Kauai.
Henry Ponce Calucag Jr. had gone to the state Bureau of Conveyances to file a document indicating he was the owner of a plot of land in Kauai.
But that land was owned by another man who had no intention of selling it, said Deputy Prosecutor Chris Van Marter in opening statements in a Circuit Court jury trial yesterday.
Calucag, 57, is charged with first-degree identity theft, first-degree theft and forgery for allegedly using a forged document to get title of a plot of land in Kalihiwai Estates owned by Kauai resident John Elwin.
In May 2006, Van Marter said, Elwin, 50, had traveled to the Philippines to purchase a condominium through Calucag. On May 14, Elwin's body was found roadside with gunshot wounds to his back and head in a province outside Manila.
Two other men, Arthur Young and Douglas Ho, disappeared after traveling to the Philippines with Calucag.
Elwin stated in his will in June 2003 that the piece of land near the ocean on Kauai, assessed at $216,000, was to go to his only daughter, Jennifer, Van Marter said. "That was his intent all along," he said.
On April 11, 2006, Van Marter said, Elwin and Calucag went to Bank of Hawaii on Ward Avenue to transfer the deed of Elwin's 2001 Land Rover to Calucag.
Three weeks later, Elwin traveled to the Philippines. Meanwhile, Van Marter said, Calucag used Elwin's credit card without his permission to purchase a first-class round-trip ticket to the Philippines where he went a couple of days later.
When he returned, Van Marter said, Calucag used Elwin's signature obtained during the vehicle transfer to file a fraudulent deed with the Bureau of Conveyances for the Kauai property.
Elwin, 50, a native of Canada, was a successful business owner of Kapaa Paint.
He knew Calucag, also known as Hank Jacinto, from polo matches held on Kauai and Oahu.
Sometime in late 2005 to early 2006, Elwin wired $245,000 to Calucag's account to purchase a condominium in the Philippines, but never got the condominium, Van Marter said.
Attorney Mark Kawata, who is representing Calucag, said Elwin and Calucag often shared expenses relating to polo. They got along famously, he said.
Kawata said there was no proof that the land deed was forged, saying that a private handwriting analyst and experts from a Honolulu Police Department lab examined Elwin's signatures and the document, determining that both were genuine.
"This is a case of official arrogance because the investigator has steadfastly refused to look at any evidence which would tend to be in favor of Calucag," Kawata said.
He said that it was not until a few weeks ago that a lab expert from the Honolulu Police Department examined the signature and determined that it was genuine.
Of the round-trip ticket Calucag purchased with Elwin's credit card, Kawata said Elwin had authorized the transaction.
Elwin's sister-in-law, Kristi Elwin, a prosecution witness, testified yesterday that family members started to worry when he failed to return calls, especially ones made to him on May 23, his birthday.
When questioned multiple times about the whereabouts of Elwin, Calucag was evasive and said he did not know where Elwin was, she said. When they spoke, "he would stutter, he would change the subject," Kristi Elwin said.
He also advised her not to file a missing-person report because it would only upset Elwin, she testified.