No kickbacks,Honolulu City Councilman Andy Mirikitani got on the witness stand today and denied that he asked for and received kickbacks from one of his employees in exchange for a salary bonus.
He says there was no deal
to exchange a bonus for
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
"I never asked (Jonn Serikawa) for a campaign contribution," said Mirikitani, under questioning by his attorney John Edmunds in U.S. District Court.
The 45-year-old councilman from Makiki is accused of paying bonuses of nearly $26,600 to then-aides Serikawa and Cynthia McMillan and receiving kickbacks of $6,884.
During about 30-minutes of testimony, Mirikitani told jurors that he never walked with Serikawa to the Hawaii State Library in June of 1999 to outline "a deal" exchanging bonus for kickback.
The third-term councilman said the bonus given to Serikawa was a merit award for the work he had done. Mirikitani testified that whenever there was money left over in his salaries account at the end of the fiscal year, he typically gave such awards to staffers "to recognize them for their hard work."
Mirikitani said that when Serikawa called him in February 2000 to meet him at Tantalus lookout, he was surprised to hear the FBI was investigating him. He said he agreed to meet because he thought Serikawa wanted to discuss a resolution of a discrimination complaint which was to go before an equal employment panel the next day.
Serikawa was fired in December 1999 and, along with another fired colleague named Scott Lasater, filed discrimination complaints with the city's equal employment opportunity officer.
"That's why I thought he was calling me, that perhaps he wanted to resolve these complaints before the hearing," Mirikitani said.
However in an FBI recording of a conversation between Mirikitani and Serikawa prior to the Tantalus meeting, Serikawa told the councilman that he wanted to talk because his attorney had advised him that he could be charged with money-laundering.
Yesterday, Serikawa said although he was upset when Mirikitani fired him, he did not concoct any of his allegations.
"I didn't make up any of this," he said during questioning yesterday by defense attorneys.
As the defense began its case today, Edmunds called as his first witness KHON-TV news reporter Bill Brennan, who testified that he initiated queries with Serikawa and Lasater for a story about the discrimination complaint.
In his arguments to subpoena KHON TV reporter Bill Brennan to testify for the defense yesterday, Edmunds alleged that Serikawa and another aide, Scott Lasater, made up the kickbacks to smear Mirikitani and sought the help of media to get the story out.
Serikawa admitted on the stand earlier that he had contacted Brennan to talk about his firing and the kickbacks.
U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor granted the defense's request to subpoena Brennan but limited questioning to whether contact had been made and not to the content of their conversations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Seabright wrapped up the prosecution case this morning by calling up FBI agents who assisted in the case. Seabright outlined how the alleged kickbacks were given about the time when Mirikitani was receiving pressure to pay off some $110,000 in fees to a legal firm representing him in a separate civil matter.
Also, former Mirikitani staffer Alexander "Hank" Raymond testified that he worked on Mirikitani's campaign finances, as treasurer of the Friends of Andy Mirikitani, from the city office computer at Honolulu Hale.
Raymond said he offered to transfer the data to his more modern computer at home, but Mirikitani declined the offer.
Yesterday, Garrett Serikawa, Jonn's father, testified that his son met him at his office in mid-June 1999 for some advice about an offer Mirikitani had made.
"I told him what was being proposed was not right and what Mr. Mirikitani was asking him to do was wrong," said the elder Serikawa, a certified public accountant and former senior partner at the Honolulu office of a national accounting firm.
During questioning by Edmunds, Serikawa said he believed his son was being asked to pay a kickback. He told his son he did not think he would get into trouble for doing what was asked of him by Mirikitani.
Serikawa said he asked his son what had happened to the bonus about one or two weeks later. Jonn Serikawa told his father he had cashed the bonus check at his credit union, made a deposit and placed cash in an envelope that he gave to Mirikitani.
Jonn Serikawa also said Mirikitani questioned the amount, saying he expected more.
Leinaala Davis, Mirikitani's office manager from August to November 1999, also testified that Serikawa told her that he had received a bonus and been asked to return part of it.
When Serikawa returned a portion, Mirikitani's girlfriend, Sharron Bynum, apparently became upset because he had miscalculated the amount he owed, and Bynum later corrected him, Davis said she was told. She said Serikawa told her: "Can you imagine? She's so stupid she even wrote it down on a piece of paper for me."
Bynum is charged with aiding and abetting Mirikitani.
Serikawa has been granted immunity from prosecution.
If convicted, Mirikitani faces as much as 65 years in prison and a fine of up to $1.5 million.
Mirikitani is scheduled to resume his testimony when the trial goes into its eighth day tomorrow.
City & County of Honolulu