Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Saturday, February 24, 2001

Maui gambler
gets 3 months in
federal prison

Donald Morita will have
to wait to try going legit
at a Vegas hotel or casino

By Debra Barayuga

A professional gambler with a history of gambling-related convictions is fed up with getting into trouble for his activities.

That's why Donald Morita, 57, cooperated with the federal government and pleaded guilty to his involvement in an illegal bookmaking operation on Maui, his attorney says.

And Morita now wants to move to Las Vegas where most gambling is legal and find a job at a hotel or casino.

"He wants to do it the way it's supposed to be. That's why he wants to move to Las Vegas," Morita's attorney, John Yamane, said yesterday.

"You're kidding me," said U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra.

Saying Morita needed to understand that illegal gambling "is serious business," and to impress upon him the reality of incarceration, Ezra yesterday sentenced Morita to three months at a federal prison camp and three years of supervised release.

Had Morita not cooperated with the government, he would have received a year's imprisonment "in a New York minute, with this kind of record," said Ezra upon reviewing Morita's history. "He's just had no respect for the law."

Yamane said Morita has received employment offers, including managing a restaurant in Las Vegas. Morita has managerial experience and some food service background, Yamane said.

Ezra said he was concerned about Morita's intention to relocate to Las Vegas.

Morita has contacts in Las Vegas and Hawaii. "I don't want him to succumb to temptation to re-establish old school ties with gambling buddies in Hawaii and run an interstate gambling operation under the ruse of being a restaurant manager."

Despite Yamane's representations, Ezra said he was not convinced that the Nevada Gaming Commission would allow Morita, with a federal felony conviction, to work at a hotel or casino.

Morita has pleaded guilty to running an illegal gambling business out of the state Department of Accounting and General Services office on Maui which involved the use of state resources, prosecutors said. Seven people on Maui were indicted for their participation.

Yamane had argued for home detention, saying that despite Morita's prior history, he has stayed out of trouble for the past 10 years until he got involved in the Maui operation, and realized he could now be facing prison.

Since his July 1999 indictment on the Maui charges, Morita has not been arrested on any other gambling charges, Yamane said. "It shows Mr. Morita realized that illegal gambling is just not worth it."

Yamane said his client came forward early and cooperated fully and completely with the government's investigation into the Maui case, as well as providing information on other cases.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni said Morita and two other defendants who have yet to be sentenced were invaluable in their cooperation.

Once defendants named in the Maui indictment became aware of Morita's cooperation, they subsequently all pleaded guilty, averting a trial, Nakakuni said.

Seven individuals on Maui, including four employees of the Department of Accounting and General Services, have pleaded guilty to various charges including conspiracy, operating an illegal bookmaking operation and failing to pay a wagering tax. All but one have been sentenced and received terms ranging from one year to five years of probation.

But Ezra called Morita an "incorrigible gambler" with a history of state gambling-related convictions dating to 1966. The more recent convictions came in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990.

Ezra said Morita has continued to gamble because the only punishment he received was fines ranging from $50 to $150. "So in his mind, he thinks this is the cost of doing business."

To sentence Morita to home detention would make the court an "aider and abettor" and set Morita up for more serious problems later, Ezra said.

When asked if he wanted to address the court, Morita replied, "I'm just sorry I caused all this inconvenience."

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin