Aki avoids
jail time

His career as lawmaker
can continue, though his party
has yet to comment

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Former Senate President James Aki today won his freedom and the privilege of remaining in the Legislature if he stays out of trouble for the next five years.

Aki, D-21st Dist. (Nanakuli-Waianae-Makaha), pleaded no contest to felony gambling charges July 7.

Aki, 60, asked the court to grant him a "deferred acceptance of no-contest plea," which means he would not be convicted of the felony charges if his record remains clean for five years.

Under state law, if Aki had been convicted of a felony, he would have had to resign.

But Aki now faces an investigation by the state Senate. Senate President Norman Mizuguchi today said a special committee of five senators will review Aki's case next week and could recommend that he be censored or removed from office.

Senate Vice President Andrew Levin will head the panel. The entire Senate would have to vote on any action against Aki, and Mizuguchi said he hopes to resolve the problem when the Legislature convenes in January.

After this morning's 20-minute court hearing, Aki said he was "very relieved" because the case has been going on for three years and "has taken a great toll on me and my family."

Aki said he still wants to remain in the Senate if his colleagues approve. He said he hadn't talked to the Democratic leadership about his legislative future.

In granting Aki's request, Circuit Judge Wilfred Watanabe also directed Aki, a member of the Legislature for 26 years, to pay $1,000 to the state's general fund.

City Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee had recommended that Aki serve as much as 30 days in jail, pay a $10,000 fine and perform 200 hours of community service.

Lee told Watanabe that as a legislator Aki should have known what constituted social gambling, noting that the illegal Nanakuli bingo games were "grossing $60,000 a week."

After the hearing, Lee said Aki's position or his future as a legislator never entered into his office's handling of the case.

At the hearing, Michael Green, Aki's lawyer, argued that indicting Aki for racketeering was like "killing a fly with a sledgehammer."

"There wasn't a corrupt motive in (Aki's) thought," Green said. "His only motivation was to help kids."

He said Aki had been "fooled by trusting people who said they wanted to do good for the children."

Green said the church group left Aki with a $2,000 bill for bentos they ordered from one of his companies.

In his own defense Aki told Watanabe that he leased his property to a church group only because he thought it was going to raise funds for scholarships.

"I didn't know the activity was illegal," Aki said.

In an Oct. 13, 1994, interview with Lt. Daniel Hanagami of the Honolulu Police Department's Vice and Narcotics Division, Aki said he would have evicted Myron Thompson and Frieda Logo, who had a verbal lease from him to rent his 1.5-acre Nanakuli property on a month-to-month basis, if he had thought that something more than social gambling was going on.

Aki said he met the two in late 1993 when they approached his secretary wanting to rent commercial property he owned at 87-2120 Farrington Highway. Aki said the rent was set at $100 a month in November 1993 and climbed to $200 in January and was up to $400 when the place was raided in March.

But Aki said the two only made one or two payments and still owe him money.

Star-Bulletin writer Richard Borreca contributed to this report.

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