Friday, June 22, 2001

Mirikitani denies
seeking kickbacks
from staff bonuses

The councilman says he
was surprised he was
being investigated

See also: Council sidelines
Mirikitani's park project

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

City Councilman Andy Mirikitani says he was surprised when his former aide wanted to meet with him because they were being investigated by the FBI.

"I didn't know what they could be investigating me about," Mirikitani told jurors in U.S. District Court yesterday as he took the witness stand for the first time in his own defense against charges that he received kickbacks from two former staffers in exchange for bonuses.

Federal prosecutors have charged Mirikitani, 45, with bribery, theft, extortion, witness tampering and wire fraud. If convicted, he faces up to 65 years in prison and a fine of up to $1.5 million.

Mirikitani spent less than half an hour on the witness stand yesterday before Judge Helen Gillmor. During that time, however, he denied asking for or receiving kickbacks from bonuses or raises he gave to ex-aide Jonn Serikawa.

"I never asked him for a campaign contribution," said Mirikitani, under questioning by his attorney John Edmunds.

Mirikitani told jurors that he never walked with Serikawa in June 1999 to the Hawaii State Library to outline "a deal" to exchange a bonus for a kickback, as Serikawa had detailed in his testimony last week.

The third-term councilman said the bonus, which the FBI said amounted to $9,616.73 before taxes, was given to Serikawa as a merit award for the work he had done.

Earlier, Serikawa said that when he was only a part-time Council aide, he had approached Mirikitani about the possibility of taking on a second job outside the city. But Mirikitani had dissuaded him, Serikawa said.

"I think what he said was: 'Don't worry about it. We're working on something so you won't need to take a second job.'"

Mirikitani testified that up through June 1999, Serikawa had done work beyond that of a part-timer and that he had wanted to give him both full-time status and a bonus.

"He was very grateful," Mirikitani said when asked what Serikawa's reaction was when the two spoke in his office.

"No, he did not give me any of the bonus money," he said during further questioning. "No he never gave me any of the raise money."Mirikitani continues on the witness stand tomorrow on the eighth day of the trial.

As the defense began its case yesterday, Edmunds called as his first witness KHON-TV news reporter Bill Brennan, who testified that he initiated queries with Serikawa and another fired Mirikitani aide, Scott Lasater, for a story about a discrimination complaint they had filed against Mirikitani.

In his arguments to subpoena Brennan to testify, Edmunds had alleged Serikawa and Lasater made up the kickbacks allegations to smear Mirikitani and that they had sought the help of media to get the story out.

Council sidelines
Mirikitani's park project

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

s As Andy Mirikitani was sitting in a federal courtroom Wednesday on trial for allegedly accepting kickbacks from his employees, his City Council colleagues at Honolulu Hale several blocks up Punchbowl Street were scuttling one of his pet projects.

The Council voted 6-2 to "defer indefinitely" a bill that would have placed a park symbol on two vacant parcels bounded by South King Street, Kalakaua Avenue and Young Street that once were home to the Pawaa Diner's Drive-in. The bill, until then, did not appear to be in trouble.

Residents from nearby elderly housing projects had endorsed the project as a needed improvement for their community even though the parcels, combined, add up to only about three quarters of an acre.

But a representative for the properties' owners said the proposal would cause an unnecessary hardship for his clients while it appeared the city's commitment to a park there was nominal at best.

"This renders the properties almost useless," said attorney David Kwock, noting that plans to develop have been hampered by talks over the last decade that the sites would be condemned to make way for a park.

The owner of an adjacent Young Street parcel also objected to the park symbol, stating that his family is fearful their property will be next.

The family has reason to worry. Mirikitani, who represents the Pawaa area, was successful in getting colleagues to condemn a swath of land in the middle of the same block and convert that into a mini-park in 1999. Mirikitani made no secret then that he wanted the area - bounded by King, Kalakaua, Young and Keeaumoku streets -- to become a superblock park.

The state Board of Agriculture, which is on the Keeaumoku-King side of the block, sent a terse letter then stating it had no intention of vacating its space.

Councilman Gary Okino, in making the motion for the deferral yesterday, noted that only $1,000 has been set aside for the park project in the administration's budget.

"There doesn't seem to be any resolve to do this project," he said.

Councilman Duke Bainum, one of two Council members who wanted to push the project forward, said the park would be "a small strip of green in a sea of cement."

Mirikitani, told during a break in his trial yesterday of the vote, said he did not believe the project is gone permanently. John Edmunds, his attorney, refused to let him answer other questions from reporters.

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