Senator Aki seeks
to erase two felonies

He wants the court to defer his plea and
let him continue in office

By Linda Hosek

If Sen. James Aki persuades a state judge to give him a chance to expunge two felony gambling and racketeering offenses now on his record, he may legally continue in the state Legislature.

But if Circuit Judge Wilfred Watanabe denies Aki's request and sentences him to prison, he will have to leave public office after 26 years, based on state law.

Aki, 60, yesterday pleaded no contest to promoting gambling on his Nanakuli property from November 1993 through March 1994 and unlawfully operating or owning a business.

The latter is a racketeering charge that carries a 10-year prison sentence or $10,000 fine.

But he also asked the court to defer his plea in a procedure that would drop the offenses after a period of time set by the court.

Aki described the incident as "embarrassing" and said he entered the plea to put it behind him. He said he didn't know that the people who asked to use his property planned to gamble.

He also said he didn't receive any rent money, even though they offered to pay him.

"It's just a waste of taxpayer money to pursue this any further," he added.

Watanabe set sentencing for Nov. 26 and is expected to rule on Aki's motion for a deferred plea at that time.

Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee said he would oppose Aki's motion, but also said he didn't know if the state would seek prison time for him.

Lee said a deferred plea would put Aki in a state of limbo, based on a state Supreme Court ruling. It would legally enable Aki to remain in public office throughout the plea's term.

Without a deferred plea, Aki would forfeit public office on his sentencing date, based on state law. He also couldn't resume his position until the state discharged him from his sentence.

Aki, who said before the hearing that he plans to run for re-election in 1998, also faces Senate sanctions.

"The serious charges against a public official in a high government position cannot be taken lightly," Senate President Norman Mizuguchi said. "After the court makes a final decision and based on the outcome, the Senate will act accordingly."

Lee said Aki knew people were running a for-profit bingo game on his property. He said the state seized $50,000 from the operation but returned $19,000 to two co-defendants. He said Aki received $600 to $700 in rent for five months, but also said he could have received more through unrecorded cash transactions.

Lee also said Aki knew bingo for profit was illegal because he supported a 1991 bill to legalize limited bingo games for religious, charitable and nonprofit organizations.

Michael Green, Aki's attorney, said Aki's motive was pure when he opened his property for use by Samoan Church representatives. He said Aki believed they wanted to run a nonprofit game to raise money for scholarships for Polynesians. He said Aki willingly answered questions when police asked about the operation: "This senator cooperated at every step."

He said Aki lost thousands of dollars in utility costs during the bingo games.

Aki's co-defendants are Myron Thompson (not the former Bishop Estate trustee), Freda Logo and Diana Seiulu.

Seiulu, who on July 2 pleaded guilty to gambling, racketeering and failing to report income, will be sentenced Sept. 4. She is free on supervised release.

Aki is free on $1,000 bail.

Thompson and Logo are free on $16,000 bail; their trial is scheduled for July 21.

Green said Aki's property would not be forfeited from the incident. Aki said the three-acre parcel, which included the former Nanakuli Theater, would become a community center.

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