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Saturday, November 25, 2000

Guilty verdict in customs
overtime-pay case

By Debra Barayuga

A federal jury yesterday found the former head of the U.S. Customs Service on Maui guilty of four of 20 counts of claiming overtime for work he did not perform.

Lyons K. Naone III, who recently retired from his position as head of the U.S. Customs on Maui and port director for nearly 15 years, faces up to five years imprisonment on each count of making false statements to a government agency. He was acquitted in the remaining 16 counts. He will be sentenced April 2.

Naone sat with head bowed as U.S. District Judge David Ezra read the verdict. He and federal deputy defender Alexander Silvert, who stood in for Naone's attorney, Anthony Ranken, declined comment.

Naone was indicted in June on 20 counts -- one for each false overtime ticket he allegedly submitted. While the charges involved $3,000 in overtime pay from October 1997 to January 2000, the case was never about money, said assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Tong. "It was about integrity."

Naone's duties included inspecting and searching all foreign arrivals, taking declarations from passengers and, based on the truthfulness of their answers, assessing duties and fees. "While he demanded truth from the passengers, he was lying," Tong said.

It took guts for customs inspectors to air the "dirty laundry" of a government agency, and the jury's verdict vindicated that decision, Tong said.

The defense had argued that the charges were "misunderstandings" and stemmed from complaints by a disgruntled employee.Ranken had argued that Naone worked every hour of overtime he had claimed.

As port director, Naone had the 24-hour responsibility of monitoring vessels and aircraft while they were on Maui.

Naone took the stand and denied he tried to cheat the government by submitting false overtime claims.

Naone -- who said he owns his own home, has no financial worries and has enough disposable income to do as he wishes -- said he had no reason to put his job at risk for only $900 a year while he was making $60,000.

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