Ige extortedA Windward Oahu farmer testified about an alleged extortion attempt by former state Sen. Marshall Ige, saying he feared he would lose his farm if he didn't pay the former lawmaker $7,000 in advance lease payments.
$7,000 in rent,
Ige warned that Hanh Lam
would lose the land if he
did not pay, Lam says
By Rick Daysog
Speaking through an interpreter, Hanh Lam told District Judge Russel Nagata that Ige approached him in June 1999, seeking the advance payment.
"He said if we did not pay that money, somebody else would come and pay that money and we would lose the land and have to go away," said Lam, a native of Vietnam.
"I would lose my crops. I would lose my job and I would not have any money for expenses for my family."
Lam's testimony marked the first day of a preliminary hearing into the attorney general's criminal case against Ige. Nagata said he plans to hear further testimony Wednesday before deciding whether there's probable cause to send the case to trial.
In its five-count complaint filed Jan. 18, the attorney general's office charged Ige with extortion, theft, attempted tax evasion and money laundering.
According to the state, the former Kaneohe legislator took $7,000 from Lam after threatening to evict the Punaluu farmer.
The state also said that Ige took $30,000 from an elderly Beverly Hills couple, Rita and Morris Wolfred, after promising to expunge a criminal conviction from the couple's daughter's record.
Ige's attorney, public defender Richard Sing, had no comment on yesterday's proceeding. But in the past, Ige's lawyers have denied wrongdoing, saying the case involves civil disputes and should not be subject to a criminal trial. They said Ige is in the process of repaying the Wolfreds and Lam.
Lam said yesterday that Ige has returned about $3,000 of his money but still owes about $4,200. Lam said some of the checks that Ige used to repay him were later returned for insufficient funds.
Lam, who grew Vietnamese herbs and fruits on a five-acre parcel he subleased from Ige, said he was current on his $590 a month lease when Ige approached him and fellow farmer Du-Huu Tran with the $7,000 payment request. Ige told him the payment would be needed secure an additional year on their sublease.
Lam, who cannot speak or read English, said he believed that Ige owned the land and could evict him. He was unaware that Ige was in the process of losing his master lease.
According to Lam, Ige went so far as to fill out a blank check for $7,000 on Lam's account to Kaneohe Orchid Farm, a company controlled by Ige's wife, Caryn. Lam said that he was able to cover the check only after borrowing about $5,000 from friends, whom he later repaid.
According to testimony from state investigator Paul Sakaida, Ige owed more than $16,000 in back rent to the actual landowner, Thomas Shea of California. Shea was "livid" when he found Ige was collecting advance rent from the Vietnamese farmers, Sakaida said.
He testified that Shea canceled Ige's lease in 1999 and now directly leases the land to the farmers.