ALEMA LEOTA / FAMILY PATRIARCH
Alleged crime boss also ran for governor against Ariyoshi
Alema Leota, who vigorously denied he was an organized crime leader here in the 1970s and who ran for governor in 1978, died Sunday in Washington state. He was 80.
LeeAnn Duque, family spokeswoman and Leota's grandniece, said Leota died peacefully in his sleep at a senior care home in the Seattle area from natural causes, although he had been recovering from injuries in a December traffic accident.
"I think a lot of people will be sad because they knew him well," Duque said. "But they will be happy as well because he lived a full life."
The son of Mormon missionaries who came here from American Samoa, Leota was born in Laie and attended Kahuku High School and Iolani High School, where he excelled in football.
Leota served three years in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., following World War II and made more than 40 parachute jumps before he was honorably discharged in 1949.
Leota was sent to prison in 1952 in a fatal beating case but said later that he was acting in self-defense. He earned his high school diploma at Kulani Honor Camp on the Big Island.
Leota drew the attention of law enforcement officials who described him as a syndicate figure, but in 1974 he was acquitted of federal tax evasion charges after the prosecution could not provide any witnesses linking him to participating in organized crime.
Four years later, Leota ran for governor as a nonpartisan candidate.
During his campaign, Leota told the Associated Press that reports labeling him as a "reputed" organized crime leader were unfair and unproven. He described himself as self-employed and a fisherman. Police and friends said he lived a simple life, avoiding flashy dress or big-time spending.
In an interview that year in the now-defunct Molokai Free Press, Leota said he "definitely" was not involved in organized crime. "I've been fighting organized crime all my life," he said.
Asked why he was running, Leota said it was "our responsibility to make Hawaii a better place to live."
As governor, he told the Molokai publication, he would put "an end to organized crime" by legalizing marijuana and gambling to "take profits away from the criminal element."
Leota received 1,982 votes in the race won by Gov. George Ariyoshi.
Duque said Leota moved to Washington state about five years ago with his longtime companion, Ann Lyons.
Duque described him as a kind, generous and loving man who became the last surviving second-generation member of the family and the patriarch of the Leotas.
In 2004 about 500 attended a reunion in Laie for the Leotas and their extended families, Duque said.
He told the Kaleo O Koolauloa publication that Laie was a smaller town in the 1930s when he was growing up and that the church played a huge role in their lives.
"I'm seeing relatives I haven't seen for a long time," he said. "I knew I had a lot of relatives, but this is amazing. ... I miss Hawaii, but I'm thankful I'm still living to be here."
Duque said Leota would visit Laie and help his relatives.
"We loved what he tried to do," she said. "We supported him. We loved him. He was a great man to us."
Services will be held May 23rd at the north chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Laie, according to Duque.
The public viewing is 10 a.m. with services at 11 a.m. and burial at noon at the Laie Cemetery.