Saturday, June 23, 2001

Mirikitani denies
deal with aide

A former aide claims the
councilman asked for a
contribution in return
for a bonus

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

City Councilman Andy Mirikitani acknowledged that he asked an aide for a campaign contribution during a conversation in which he told her she would get a bonus, but he insists he didn't make one conditional on the other.

Later yesterday during Mirikitani's corruption trial at U.S. District Court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Seabright began a cross-examination by poking relentlessly at different arguments the third-term councilman offered in his defense.

Mirikitani, 45, spent yesterday on the stand in what was the eighth day of trial before Judge Helen Gillmor. Federal attorneys have charged Mirikitani with bribery, theft, extortion, witness tampering and wire fraud and say he is the highest-ranking elected official in Hawaii to be indicted on federal charges while still in office. Specifically, he is charged with giving bonuses to aides Cindy McMillan and Jonn Serikawa in exchange for kickbacks.

McMillan testified last week that she and Mirikitani walked from Honolulu Hale to the grounds of the Hawaii State Library, where he offered her a "deal" in which she received a bonus for giving him a campaign contribution.

Under questioning by John Edmunds, his attorney, Mirikitani denied there was a deal. He said he first told McMillan that he wanted to reward her with a bonus during a meeting in his office in late May.

It was not until June 8, he said, that he asked McMillan to go with him across Punchbowl Street to the library and told her the amount of her bonus. He said he then proceeded to ask for a campaign contribution.

"I never told her that the bonus and the campaign contribution were linked," he said. "I don't know how much clearer I could have been."

According to Mirikitani, "She said: 'Don't mention it. Of course I want to give you the largest amount of contribution that I can.'"

Mirikitani later took out $4,000 from the campaign account and deposited it into his personal funds. He said he took the money out as partial compensation to himself for the more than $20,000 he had loaned to his campaign.

Prosecutors say Mirikitani was in debt for more than $110,000 in attorney fees for an unrelated civil case at about the time the alleged kickbacks occurred. Mirikitani testified that he promised his civil attorneys a share of property he inherited as part of a payment plan.

Mirikitani denied receiving any funds from Serikawa, who said he gave his former boss $2,634, nearly all of it in cash.

Under cross-examination by Seabright, Mirikitani continually maintained that a cryptic conversation between him and Serikawa atop Tantalus Lookout taped by the FBI was primarily about a discrimination claim filed against him, not about the alleged kickback.

He noted that he was to be questioned by an equal employment opportunity board the day after the Tantalus meeting on the complaint filed by Serikawa and Scott Lasater, another former employee, after they were fired.

Seabright brought out as evidence copies of the councilman's own notebooks, dated the month before the Tantalus conversation, where he jotted down that reporters had inquired about the possibility that the FBI was investigating him.

Seabright raised his voice as he grilled Mirikitani about how he could confuse Serikawa's references to the FBI and worries about being subpoenaed by a grand jury with the equal employment opportunity complaint.

Mirikitani told Seabright that he meant to say that no "credible" sources had inquired about an FBI investigation. He said he would not have met with Serikawa had he known the FBI was investigating him.

The federal attorney also made Mirikitani recite his legal career, then questioned how he could not know that discrimination claims are civil in nature and not investigated by the FBI. When Mirikitani countered that discrimination law was not his area of legal expertise, Seabright reminded him that he had helped write the city's sexual-harassment policies.

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