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Thursday, September 21, 2000

State wants
Kahapea to get
100-year sentence

But the defense is asking for
probation for the convicted Ewa
Villages fraud mastermind

Harris: Ewa Villages
report will be public

By Debra Barayuga

One hundred years.

That's how long the state says convicted city housing official Michael Kahapea should serve in prison for the theft of $5.8 million from the Ewa Villages relocation fund.

But the defense is asking the judge to give Kahapea probation.

"Putting Kahapea in jail for the rest of his life will serve no one. And how is anyone in that situation going to repay or attempt to repay the money that was taken?" defense attorney Donald Wilkerson argued.

Ewa Villages In a sentencing memo filed Monday, Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee argued that the crimes Kahapea were convicted of "involved substantial forethought, sophisticated planning and execution.

"A sentence without substantial incarceration would demean the serious nature of defendant's crimes and instead encourage others to breach the trust of others and steal substantial amounts of monies," Lee said.

Kahapea awaits sentencing next Thursday before Judge Reynaldo Graulty. Graulty was to hear a motion today by Wilkerson to withdraw as Kahapea's attorney, which would result in the sentencing being postponed. Lee said the state will oppose such a postponement.

The court denied a previous request Sept. 13.

A Circuit Court jury found Kahapea guilty Aug. 2 of 43 counts -- including first- and second-degree theft, second-degree forgery, unlawful ownership or operation of a business, money laundering, bribery and failure to report income -- following an eight-week trial.

Kahapea, who was in charge of city relocation projects, was accused of rigging bids, awarding moving contracts to companies owned by friends or relatives, billing and overcharging the city for bogus moves and receiving kickbacks.

Kahapea was to be arraigned today on new theft and racketeering charges stemming from the alleged theft of $200,000 in quarters from laundromats at two city apartment buildings.

Kahapea had previously led an honest life and has no prior convictions, Wilkerson said.

His downfall was gambling, causing him to get involved into things he shouldn't have, Wilkerson said. "The city made it very easy for him and many other people to take the money."

But Lee argued that Kahapea has shown no remorse, tried to blame others for the crimes and refuses to take responsibility for his criminal actions.

He said the state believes its highly unlikely Kahapea can pay restitution.

Wilkerson said that to adequately represent Kahapea at sentencing and help the court determine restitution owed, he needed to subpoena records from the moving companies to determine what amount of the $5.8 million allegedly stolen by Kahapea was spent on legitimate projects.

Kahapea believes the amount spent on legitimate city projects is possibly "several million dollars."

The crimes Kahapea has been convicted of do not require a mandatory prison sentence because they are not violent offenses and have not harmed a particular person, Wilkerson said.

"No doubt the public has been harmed and he has been apologetic from the beginning, but these are property crimes and property crimes should not be dealt with with long periods of incarceration," he said.

Harris: Ewa Villages
report will be public

By Gordon Y. K. Pang

Mayor Jeremy Harris says a $45,000 report on the Ewa Villages scandal has not yet been completed -- and is not being hidden from the public, as suggested by political challenger Mufi Hannemann.

It is a document that news reporters have repeatedly requested but been denied access to by the administration, which cited ongoing legal proceedings involving Ewa Villages. Hannemann, a former city councilman, said he has also been rebuffed.

Harris now says the document will be made available soon, possibly before Saturday's primary election.

Hannemann told reporters yesterday that during the campaign, Harris has made reference to the report as a document that will help ensure a similar scandal does not occur, but has yet to show anyone what the report says.

"Where is this stealth report?" Hannemann asked. "How is the public assured that this will not happen again?"

Hannemann said the mystery over the document bolsters his campaign promise to hire an independent city auditor.

"There must be some things in the report that they do not want the public to know about -- or his opponents in this mayoral race, specifically Mufi Hannemann."

But according to Harris: "I hired Deloitte and Touche after the Ewa Villages scandal to go in and work with our city personnel to find ways to improve the internal controls so this sort of thing didn't happen again."

The scandal centered around the taking of some $6 million from a housing fund designed to help relocate tenants in Ewa Villages as the plantation-era buildings were renovated.

A number of recommendations made by the document, titled "The City and County Ewa Villages Commercial Relocations Review of Relocation Policies, Procedures and Internal Controls," have already been implemented, Harris said.

That includes separating the steps toward disbursing relocation funds among several departments in order to provide more checks and balances, the mayor said.

Additional improvements in city procedures include fraud training and requiring that disbursement checks be mailed, rather than picked up.

Harris said it is not a big issue that the document, received by the city in April, has not been released, because it is still in draft form.

"As soon as it's done, I'd be happy to release it," the mayor said. "There's no new information, really."

Harris said that given the questions, he will ask Corporation Counsel David Arakawa to see if the final report can be completed sooner.

Former city housing employee Michael Kahapea was convicted this summer of 47 counts of theft, fraud and other related charges. Prosecutors say Kahapea was the mastermind behind a scheme that bilked the city by having checks written to friends and family who set up bogus moving companies.

Donald Wilkerson, Kahapea's attorney, said yesterday he agreed with Hannemann that the mayor has been slow to release the document, because it makes him look bad.

"It's my understanding that there's a lot of information that's very critical of the Harris administration," he said.

Wilkerson tried to subpoena Deloitte and Touche's documents as evidence in Kahapea's trial, but was allowed access to only portions of it.

Arakawa said he fought to have the reports blocked from the subpoena because they were not yet finished and were part of a then-ongoing internal investigation.

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