Wednesday, September 9, 1998

Modafferi pleads
guilty to
drug charge

The former deputy prosecutor,
caught with ice, admits that
drugs got the better of him

By Susan Kreifels


First he went after drug dealers as head of the state's largest narcotics prosecution unit. Then he defended them.

But yesterday Honolulu criminal defense lawyer Gary Modafferi, 39, admitted that drugs got the better of him as well.

Modafferi pleaded guilty to distributing crystal methamphetamine, or ice, from his apartment between August 1996 and December 1997, when he was arrested. According court documents, he provided ice to two people to smoke with him at his apartment.

"Addiction can really affect someone, no matter what station of life," Modafferi said after changing his plea to guilty before U.S. District Judge David Ezra.

Modafferi finished a substance-abuse treatment program in the summer and said he no longer has a drug problem.

In a plea agreement, the U.S. government agreed to dismiss other counts against Modafferi. Prosecutors will not argue that a registered revolver found in Modafferi's possession was connected to the drugs.

He also gave up the right to appeal or challenge his sentence unless Ezra gives more than the recommended sentence.

The maximum jail time Modafferi faces is 20 years with no minimum time and no early release on parole, plus up to $1 million in fines and three years of supervised release.

The FBI started to investigate him in September 1997 after it heard he had used the drug with a woman.

Investigators found ice in Modafferi's kitchen. The government said Modafferi distributed the drug to his girlfriend and another person and smoked it in a bong pipe.

Modafferi was accused of possessing crystal meth, giving an informant 0.69 gram of the drug and being a user of ice in possession of a handgun.

The prosecution said it had videotapes to prove the allegations.

Modafferi is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 21 at 3 p.m.

Ezra also barred him from practicing law. However, he gave discretion to the state Circuit Court on whether to allow Modafferi to finish a case that is to be tried and completed by the first week of October.

After the hearing, Modafferi gave brief comments, adding that he would give more details at his sentencing.

He said he would resign from the bar. "I've defined myself as a lawyer my entire life," Modafferi said. "I know I did a good job. I helped a lot of people."

Modafferi's defense attorney, Michael Green, said he advised Modafferi to plead guilty because the case was "not defensible." Green said the government was "very fair" in the plea agreement.

Green said the toughest evidence was the tapes and the number of people involved. Green added that Modafferi could be sentenced to jail or be under home detention.

Honolulu lawyer and friend Myles Breiner called Modafferi a "great lawyer who fell victim to his own personal dealings.

"Those who know him know he was a strong and forceful advocate, whether it was for the state or defense."

Modafferi was arrested outside his Waterfront Towers apartment the evening of Dec. 7, 1997.

He came to Hawaii in 1983, recruited by then-Honolulu Prosecutor Charles Marsland. He was one of the youngest deputy prosecutors in the office.

Marsland chose not to comment yesterday on Modafferi's plea.

Three years later he was promoted to lead the narcotics prosecution unit. He handled highly publicized prosecutions of organized crime figures.

In 1994 Modafferi was removed from his position by then-Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro. Modafferi had been charged with traffic-related misdemeanors connected to an early morning accident on New Year's Day 1992. He resigned from the office the same year.

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