Associate guilty of stealing slain man’s identity, property
Henry Calucag will likely be questioned in John Elwin's murder, prosecutors say
A Honolulu man has been found guilty of fraudulently obtaining property and using the credit cards of Kauai businessman John Elwin, who was found dead outside Manila in May 2006.
A Circuit Court jury took nearly two days to find Henry Ponce Jacinto Calucag Jr., also known as Hank Jacinto, guilty yesterday of eight felony counts that included forging documents to steal title to a Kauai parcel valued at $265,000 and using Elwin's credit cards to purchase more than $2,000 of polo equipment.
Calucag, 57, is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 29 and faces up to 70 years in prison for convictions on charges ranging from first-degree identity theft to second-degree forgery.
Prosecutors are focusing on finding who murdered Kauai businessman John Elwin now that a business associate has been convicted of stealing Elwin's Kauai property and using his credit cards.
A Circuit Court jury convicted Henry Calucag yesterday of eight of nine charges involving the forged transfer of Elwin's Kauai property valued at $256,000 and the purchase of more than $2,000 worth of polo equipment with Elwin's credit cards after he died.
"We're happy with the jury's verdict today, but we're not through with Mr. Calucag," said Deputy Prosecutor Chris Van Marter.
Prosecutors contend that the thefts, including $245,000 Calucag received from Elwin for the sale of a Philippine condo and kept even after the deal fell through and the transfer of Elwin's $50,000 Land Rover to Calucag, were fraudulent.
"In our view, that type of theft provides a strong motive for homicide," Van Marter said.
But Calucag's attorney maintains his client had nothing to do with Elwin's death, nor with the disappearance of two other Hawaii men who purportedly traveled with Calucag to the Philippines or did business with him.
"There's no evidence he ever traveled to the Philippines with either one of them," said defense attorney Mark Kawata, challenging authorities to check passport records and entry/exit logs.
Kawata said he and his client are still reeling from the verdict and expect to appeal.
"We're obviously disappointed because we felt there was clear reasonable doubt on every single one of these counts," Kawata said.
Calucag claimed that Elwin had sold the Kauai property to him for $120,000 and introduced notarized documents signed by Elwin as evidence that he had legitimately transferred the land to Calucag. He also maintained that even after the sale of the Philippine condo fell through, Elwin told him to keep the $245,000, an explanation that prosecutors said didn't make sense.
The jury's verdict included a unanimous finding that Calucag falsely completed, endorsed, altered or created a forged document -- despite testimony from a Honolulu Police Department handwriting expert that the document bore Elwin's signature.
Van Marter argued it didn't make sense for Elwin to sell the valuable parcel, which is a short walk from the nearest beach, for less than half of what the parcel was worth.
Elwin's relatives and his girlfriend testified that Elwin intended the property to go to his only daughter and that he had plans drawn up to begin constructing a home on the parcel upon returning from his Philippine trip.
The notary who signed the documents testified that she notarized the transfer of a Land Rover from Elwin to Calucag, not of real property, and had noted the car's vehicle identification number in her record book. The defense maintained the deed involved more than one sheet of signatures and was not for the Land Rover.
Elwin had purchased polo equipment using his credit cards. But the orders were changed nearly a month after he was found dead, and vendors were instructed to ship the items to Calucag's Waikiki address instead. The defense maintained there was no evidence Calucag initiated the changes.
Several agencies are investigating whether Calucag is tied to Elwin's murder as well as to the disappearance of two other Hawaii men who allegedly traveled with Calucag to the Philippines or did business with him, prosecutors confirmed.
Elwin was found shot in the back of the head and back outside Manila on May 14, 2006, two weeks after he arrived there.
Mark Guerin of Oahu, a friend of the Elwin family, said he is relieved at the verdict.
Circuit Judge Michael Town declared a mistrial on a remaining count of identity theft in which Calucag was accused of using Elwin's credit card to charge a first-class plane ticket to the Philippines. Prosecutors will decide whether to retry Calucag on that count.