STAR-BULLETIN / SEPTEMBER 2006
Wesley Uemura, shown here going into federal court, is one of four men accused in the Honolulu Airport kickback scheme.
Corrupt contractor gets time in prison
A bid-rigging scheme cost the airport an extra $3.8 million
One of four men convicted last year in a bid-rigging scheme that cost the state millions in overbillings for repair and maintenance at Honolulu Airport was ordered yesterday to spend three years and five months in federal prison.
Contractor Wesley Uemura, 61, was found guilty in October 2006 of conspiracy and 15 counts of mail fraud as part of a scheme that overpaid selected contractors $3.8 million over a five-year period.
Cliff Hunt, attorney for Uemura, said his client expressed remorse and regret for his involvement and felt U.S. District Judge David Ezra gave a fair sentence. Uemura was facing a sentencing guideline range of 51 to 63 months in prison. Because the guidelines are now advisory, Ezra had discretion to go below the recommended guidelines.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Tong had argued for a sentence on the low end based on the nature of Uemura's conduct, the extent of his participation and for taking partial acceptance of responsibility.
Uemura had told the U.S. Probation Office that he initially did not know he was doing something illegal and that he had been recruited by a friend. Once he learned that it was not legal, however, he said he continued participating because the money was good, Tong said.
Although Uemura declined to fully admit to the court and the government his specific conduct -- that he had submitted false bids, inflated the cost of the work and made payments to state airports officials -- Ezra noted that he viewed Uemura as the least culpable and the only defendant so far to admit partial responsibility and wanted to give him some credit, Tong said.
Ezra noted that the scheme cost state taxpayers a substantial amount of money and damaged their faith in the fairness of the competitive bidding process, Tong said.
Government prosecutors maintained at trial that Honolulu Airport officials Dennis Hirokawa and Richard Okada used their positions to secure and award bids to companies owned by Uemura, contractor Michael Furukawa and other contractors. Hirokawa eliminated any competition by choosing a contractor from among a select group of contractors. Hirokawa and Okada later approached the contractors for kickbacks and political donations.
Upon completion of his prison term, Uemura will be placed on supervised release for three years.
He and his co-defendants, as well as six other defendants convicted in state court, are also jointly responsible for paying restitution of $4.5 million, which includes investigative costs.
Uemura, who was been out on bail since the trial, will remain free until he turns himself in to a facility designated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons on Jan. 15.