TIS the season to be jolly but no one should be getting their jollies over the painful last chapter of the implosion of Bishop Estate.
Lindsey was last
to see the light
Lokelani Lindsey yesterday became the last of five estate trustees attempting to hang on to power. She finally figured out the party was over. Facing legal bills that would choke Donald Trump, not to mention criminal charges here and there, four trustees had already voluntarily resigned and Lindsey was permanently removed.
It was Lindsey's dictatorial rule over Kamehameha School's Kapalama campus that was in large part responsible for disintegration of the board of the country's richest charitable educational trust. She bailed out on the first day of a hearing appealing her removal in state court. The appeal would have put a few more C notes in her attorneys' pockets but ultimately would not have saved her.
You can understand her frustration. Starting as a neighbor-island school administrator, she rose to the state's highest pinnacle of political and financial success. It was the brass ring of all brass rings.
With protections on every side to keep prying public eyes out, the trustees operated with gross arrogance, seemingly more interested in getting rich then honoring Princess Bernice Bishop's will. Teaching kids was secondary to land deals and high finance. For years, the trustees were preoccupied with milking the estate for personal wealth, shamelessly grabbing millions and millions in compensation while only one out of seven Hawaiian kids were admitted to the school. If the trustees had cut their million-dollar salaries in half, they could have sent the entire graduating class to college on scholarships.
BUT the game was well known. Being a trustee was a perk of the highest order. As long as the schools ran on, the trustees were free to get rich. The courts and the attorney general's office for years looked the other way. In the end, the pattern of abuses became so blatant that alumni, community leaders and even students rebelled.
Lindsey can accept some blame for that. Her "person skills" with the student body left a lot to be desired. A change in the political terrain, the election of a maverick governor, the appointment of an aggressive attorney general and investigations by the IRS were the final pieces to fall into place for the eventual collapse.
And what a collapse. Trustees removed. Some indicted. A Bishop Estate attorney commits suicide and a trustee overdoses on pills. The IRS demands millions of dollars threatening the loss of the estate's cherished tax-exempt status. An interim board of trustees appointed to try to pick up the pieces.
A sad, sad affair. Especially at this time of year. No one should get any joy out of seeing former trustee Richard Wong turning himself in to police. Or his divorce. Or Henry Peters finally realizing that if he resigned, he might be able to salvage something of his financial and personal life. Or Lindsey's ill-conceived attempt to cling to power.
But it is the time of year to be optimistic and there is plenty here to be optimistic about. Sure, the system was rigged for decades to protect Bishop Estate and its trustees' shenanigans. An admirable interim board, though, is moving to restore order.
Lindsey must feel betrayed in a way. She got into the game just as the rules were changed. That's too bad. But in the end, the system worked.
Bishop Estate Archive
Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
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