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Tuesday, April 4, 2000

gambled $1.5 mil
in two years

The city property manager
won big but lost more,
prosecutors' records show

By Suzanne Tswei


Even though he made less than $39,000 annually in his job as city property manager, Michael Kahapea gambled more than $1.5 million in Las Vegas during the two years when he is alleged to have stolen money from the city.

Those revelations came in documents filed yesterday in Circuit Court. Among the documents are Kahapea's income tax returns for 1995 and 1996 and computer records detailing his monthly gambling winnings and losses for the period.

According to the records, Kahapea traveled nearly once a month to Las Vegas and won $768,239 but lost $969,900 in 1995. In 1996, he won $717,450 and lost $795,300.

Kahapea is accused of concocting and carrying out a scheme to falsify billing records for hundreds of thousands of dollars in moving expenses for the relocation of commercial tenants for city projects. Prosecutors charge that Kahapea had his friends and relatives set up bogus moving companies to bill the city for moving work that was either never done or done at inflated costs.

Kahapea was the city property management branch chief from 1993 to 1997 and oversaw the relocations at Ewa Villages, Middle Street and West Loch.

Another document filed yesterday is a statement from Damien L. Duarte, who prepared Kahapea's tax returns for 1995 and 1996. Duarte said he met Kahapea about 1994, at a golf tournament.

When asked how he manages to lose more than he wins, Kahapea said he borrowed money and owed money to the casinos, Duarte said.

The documents filed yesterday were part of a response by city prosecutors to a defense motion seeking dismissal of the case, disqualification of deputy prosecutor Randall Lee and a change of venue.

Kahapea's attorney, Donald Wilkerson, called the disclosure of Kahapea's gambling records an attempt "to try the case in the media" by deputy prosecutor Randall Lee.

"He is bringing out the evidence piecemeal in front of the press and have the evidence misconstrued and not adequately addressed," he said.

Wilkerson said Lee should be disqualified as prosecutor because he had possession of a computer disc with Kahapea's gambling records, and having the disc makes Lee a witness in the case. Lee cannot be witness and prosecuting attorney in the same case, he said.

"Now he's downloaded what's on that disc and included in his memorandum," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said he wants the trial moved to the mainland, or at least to the neighbor islands, because of the pretrial publicity.

"The case has taken on a political nature, and we have to get it off island," Wilkerson said.

He is also asking that the case be dismissed based on "outrageous prosecutorial conduct." He said prosecutors -- Lee, Chris Young and Peter Carlisle -- have made "comments contrary to the code of ethics."

In his motion last week, Wilkerson objected to prosecutors' characterization of Kahapea as the "mastermind" in a "scheme" or "scam." "By repeatedly calling the defendant the 'mastermind,' knowing that the phrase will become a sound bite for the media, defendant's right to a fair trial is severely compromised."

Judge Michael Town will hear arguments on the defense motion April 24. Kahapea is set to go to trial May 1.

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