Wednesday, August 1, 2001

10 years for Kahapea
in 3 cases

The convicted former housing
official stole from 3 city projects
besides Ewa Villages

By Debra Barayuga

Already facing 50 years for stealing from the Ewa Villages relocation project, convicted city housing official Michael Kahapea was sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing from three other city projects.

Kahapea's sentencing yesterday ended the remaining criminal cases brought against him by the state after he was first indicted in May 1998 on charges stemming from the $5.8 million Ewa Villages relocation fraud -- the biggest in the city's history.

Elements of the Ewa Villages fraud -- which involved individuals and often bogus companies associated with Kahapea billing the city for moving costs that were either grossly inflated or never done -- were identical to the acts charged in the West Loch and Middle Street projects.

Kahapea pleaded guilty last month to first-degree theft and money laundering in both projects. He also pleaded guilty to first-degree theft and money laundering for stealing $225,337 in change from coin-operated laundry machines at the city's Kulana Nani and Westlake apartments.

The only remaining issue to be resolved is how much Kahapea owes in restitution. The state is asking for a total of $866,275 in the three cases.

Michael Hansen, chief accountant in the Internal Control Division of the city's Budget and Fiscal Services, said the city paid $710,845 in the Middle Street project and $571,031 in the West Loch project.

Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee said Kahapea should be responsible for half the amounts taken in those projects and fully responsible for $225,337 taken from the laundry machines. Lee wants the co-defendants in the Middle Street and West Loch cases to pay the other half of the money taken.

For Kahapea, the amount requested is in addition to the $3.7 million the state has already requested in the Ewa Villages case.

Don Wilkerson, attorney for Kahapea, called the state's figures "ridiculous," saying the state is relying on "voodoo accounting" and has provided no hard evidence to show where those amounts are coming from.

He said Kahapea admitted to his involvement from the beginning, feels badly about what he did and pleaded guilty because he did steal from the city.

Kahapea said, "If I'm going to be held responsible for restitution, I should be held responsible for money they can show I got."

Lee said: "It's really disappointing Kahapea and his attorney are trying to use fuzzy math in terms of getting out of restitution. The bottom line is this: We want to get the taxpayers back their money."

Not once, Lee said, has Kahapea apologized to the people of the city and county of Honolulu.

Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto acknowledged Kahapea's actions in saving the state "considerable expense" by pleading guilty to the charges. He called it a significant first step in taking responsibility and a "significant step to your redemption."

Sakamoto said he will rule in two weeks on the state's request for restitution.

In a related matter, the final co-defendant in the West Loch case pleaded guilty yesterday to fraudulently billing the city for moves that never took place. Harry Akana, 55, owner of a towing company and junkyard at West Loch, was charged with first-degree theft and money laundering.

Akana, who was approached by Kahapea, admitted to fraudulently billing the city $155,000 for relocating himself and other tenants when in fact the work was never done, said his attorney, deputy public defender Walter Rodby.

E-mail to City Desk

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

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin