Friday, October 2, 1998

continues Holt’s
fall from grace

The once-powerful former
legislator is charged with
two counts of theft

By Rick Daysog


He had it all: He was a football hero with a Harvard education and a promising political career that some thought would lead to the governor's office.

Yesterday, a federal grand jury indicted former state Sen. Milton Holt on two counts of theft involving his unsuccessful 1996 re-election campaign.

In what could be the first of several charges filed against the once-powerful former legislator, federal prosecutors said Holt diverted funds from his campaign committee for his personal use.

"There's no other way to say it: When you take money from a campaign fund for your personal use, that's theft pure and simple," said U.S.

Attorney Steven Alm. "That's what we have here today."

Between 1993 and 1997, Holt wrote four campaign checks totaling $14,695 to local printer Ryan's Graphics Inc. and company President Neal Kunimura, Alm said.

Ryan's and Kunimura then returned $9,940 of that to Holt for his personal use.

Alm did not specify how Holt spent the campaign funds.

If convicted, Holt could face up to five years in prison for each of the two criminal counts. He also could be fined up to $250,000 for each count.

Holt could not be reached for response and his attorney, Reginald Minn, declined comment.

The federal indictment could be the first of several criminal charges lodged against Holt. Last Friday, the state Campaign Spending Commission notified Holt, state Sen. Marshall Ige, Holt's employer Bishop Estate and several estate contractors that they could face criminal charges over related campaign-spending violations.

Alm would not say whether additional federal indictments would be handed down and would not discuss whether others are being targeted for investigation. But he acknowledged that the federal probe is ongoing.

Holt, who lost his Senate seat to former state Rep. Suzanne Chun Oakland in 1996, was regarded by his peers as a brilliant lawmaker and a behind-the-scenes power broker. But it is his scrapes with the law that made headlines.

In 1992, Holt spent two days in jail after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor spouse-abuse charge. The following year, he was arrested in New Orleans for public drunkenness. The New Orleans arrest was later dismissed.

Holt also has acknowledged charging more than $23,000 on Bishop Estate credit cards at local restaurants and strip clubs such as Misty II and Saigon Passion III. In several instances, he entertained lawmakers at hostess clubs.

Holt has said that he repaid the estate for the credit card charges.

Despite his recent legal woes, Holt remains on the Bishop Estate payroll, where he holds the title of special projects officer. The estate said it is investigating the credit card charges.

Gov. Ben Cayetano -- who often sparred with Holt over legislative issues -- called Holt's indictment "a tragedy." He said that Holt once had a very bright future in the Legislature.

City Councilman Mufi Hannemann, who grew up with Holt in Kalihi, said when Holt was first elected to the Legislature as a state representative in 1978 at the age of 26, many were predicting that Holt would someday be governor.

His election to the Senate in 1980 changed the balance of power in that chamber and threatened Richard "Dickie" Wong's tenure as Senate president. Wong, now a Bishop Estate trustee, retained the presidency.

Hannemann noted that many lawmakers dreaded negotiating with Holt over bills because he often outmaneuvered them with his skill and guile.

"He had everything: He had education, he had background, he had charisma," said Hannemann, who went to Harvard University partly on Holt's advice. "He was destined."

A Kamehameha Schools graduate, Holt attended Harvard in the early 1970s where he became the starting quarterback on its football team. Known then as the "pineapple kid," Holt etched his name in school history when he led the Harvard team to victory over rival Yale University in 1974.

Alm said Holt's alleged campaign violations aren't indicative of how politics is done here. But he said his office continues to place a high priority on public corruption investigations.

The U.S. attorney's office recently prosecuted the case of former state House Speaker Daniel Kihano, who was convicted of stealing money from his campaign. He was sentenced in June to two years in prison.

Other recent high-profile convictions of political figures include that of Kenneth Rappolt, former head of the city Wastewater Management Department, and Marvin Miura, who once ran the state Office of Environmental Quality Control.

Rappolt received an eight-month jail term in 1994 for demanding campaign donations for nonbid city contracts, and in 1993 Miura received a 33-month prison term after he pleaded guilty to mail fraud and bribery charges.

"I don't think you have widespread thievery, but when you do have it, there has to be consequences," Alm said.

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