DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
James Rodenhurst, center, a former Honolulu Liquor Commission supervisor, walked to the Federal Courthouse yesterday accompanied by his friend Wade Yamamoto, left, and his lawyer, Myles Breiner. CLICK FOR LARGE
A life enforcing the law tossed away for $2,000
Former liquor official James Rodenhurst is sentenced to prison in an extortion case
James Rodenhurst spent 28 years in law enforcement as a former Honolulu police officer, head of private security at Honolulu Airport during Sept. 11, 2001, and a former liquor inspector supervisor.
Yesterday, Rodenhurst could not say why he conspired with childhood friend Herbert Naone, former head of security at Aloha Stadium, to break the law -- extorting money from two nightclubs in exchange for overlooking liquor violations.
"I still ask myself that question -- I really don't have an answer," Rodenhurst said outside the courthouse after U.S. District Judge David Ezra ordered him to serve 17 months at a federal prison camp, followed by three years of supervised release.
Rodenhurst, 57, a former night-shift supervisor in the enforcement section of the Honolulu Liquor Commission, admitted in February to conspiracy. Co-defendant Naone will be sentenced in February.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni asked that Rodenhurst be given some credit for his assistance with the Honolulu Liquor Commission's administrative investigation into other liquor inspectors.
Defense attorney Myles Breiner said it all began with his client providing information to help out Naone, a schoolmate from Kamehameha Schools.
Federal prosecutors said Rodenhurst had information about when and where liquor inspectors would be conducting inspections. However, unbeknownst to Rodenhurst, Naone abused their friendship by "using his name all over town," Breiner said.
Flaunting his relationship with a member of the Liquor Commission enabled Naone to extort nightclub owners. Naone later turned over a percentage to Rodenhurst.
Rodenhurst admitted to accepting six to seven payments totaling $2,000 between May 2004 and January 2005.
Earlier, Rodenhurst expressed remorse for his conduct, which led to the breakup of his 28-year marriage and an end to his career in law enforcement. He said he simply wants to go on with his life once he serves his time.
He was also quick to defend his colleagues in law enforcement.
"A majority of the law enforcement community are professional and dedicated people who take great pride in their jobs," Rodenhurst said.
Calling this case "Liquor Commission No. 2," the second prosecution he has overseen involving corrupt Honolulu liquor inspectors, Ezra lambasted the brazenness of liquor employees in resuming extortion activities within a short period, even after a clear message was sent that this activity would not be tolerated.
"It doesn't give this court nor the people of the City and County of Honolulu any sense that this institution is being run in a lawful, appropriate and ethical manner," he added.
Rodenhurst began accepting money from Naone the same month that liquor investigators Eduardo Mina and Harvey Hiranaka were found guilty by a federal jury of racketeering, conspiracy and extortion for accepting money from liquor establishments.
Dewey H. Kim, who was appointed administrator of the Liquor Commission in April 2006 after former administrator Wallace Weatherwax resigned, said the commission now has a policy that prohibits any of its employees from accepting anything -- not even a glass of water, soda or meal -- making it easier to regulate their own people.
An internal investigation has resulted in administrative action against unidentified individuals, but because it involves personnel matters, Kim said he could not discuss it.