City & County of Honolulu

Campaign cash
linked to
beauty queen

An inquiry questions how funds
for Harris were put into her
bank account, sources say

By Rick Daysog

She is a former Maui beauty queen, a classically trained pianist and a self-proclaimed presidential scholar.

But Lisa Katherine Otsuka's Sept. 9 arrest for failing to appear at an Oahu grand jury hearing has thrust her to the forefront of Prosecutor Peter Carlisle's public corruption investigation into Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris' campaign.

As Otsuka's attorney Michael Green attempts to work out an immunity deal, the 32-year-old former Ewa resident has reluctantly emerged as a key witness to Carlisle's nine-month investigation into the Harris campaign.

Harris said he does not know anything about Otsuka. His attorney William McCorriston said he does not believe Otsuka is connected to the Harris campaign.

Otsuka could not be reached for comment.

Harris was the Democratic front-runner for today's primary elections before he dropped out of the race on May 31 amid allegations over his campaign's fund-raising practices. He has denied wrongdoing.

Witnesses contacted by Carlisle's office told the Star-Bulletin that the prosecutor is focusing on Otsuka's alleged role in a series of Harris campaign expenditures for more than $75,000 to a local pollster, Campaign Service Inc.

The payments, which were made during the 2000 campaign season and include a $31,208 Bank of Hawaii cashier's check dated May 31, 2000, were for polling and other election-related services, according to Harris' filings with the state Campaign Spending Commission.

Yet much of the money wound up in Otsuka's bank account, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Carlisle's office declined comment.

Green said he is unaware of any alleged payments to his client.

Campaign Service is a trade name that is registered to the political research and public relations firm of Mattson & Co. State business records list Harry Mattson and Norma Wong, two longtime supporters of Gov. John Waihee, as Mattson & Co.'s partners.

Prosecutors and investigators with the Honolulu Police Department recently subpoenaed Mattson & Co.'s bank records as well as those of Otsuka.

They also questioned Mattson and Wong under oath about the payments.

Mattson had no comment. Wong said she does not know Otsuka and declined further response.

Otsuka's links to Mattson & Co. go beyond the payments.

A nonprofit corporation headed by Otsuka, Aloha Honor Scholars Foundation, listed the same Nuuanu Avenue address as Mattson & Co. Otsuka also worked for Mattson during the 2002 state Democratic Party Convention at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel, according to state Rep. Sylvia Luke (D, Nuuanu).

Luke, one of the convention's secretaries, said Otsuka helped Mattson by providing catering services for a hospitality room.

Bob Watada, executive director of state Campaign Spending Commission, said his office raised suspicions about payments to Mattson & Co. and other Harris vendors about a year ago. He said that most companies are paid either by cash or check and not by cashier's check.

Watada added that that it is easier for a contributor or campaign to conceal potential abuse of the state's campaign spending laws by paying by cashier's check.

"A vendor doesn't normally ask for a cashier's check, especially from big campaign," Watada said. "It's very unusual to pay in this way."

Otsuka is a 1987 Baldwin High School graduate from a politically connected Wailuku family. Her mother, Patricia Kushi, is a cousin of Edward Kushi Jr., a deputy corporation counsel on Maui.

Edward Kushi, or "Kushi Junior," is a friend of Maui power brokers Meyer Ueoka and Masaru "Pundy" Yokouchi, who played a key role in Hawaii Democrats' post-World War II takeover of isle politics.

After graduation, Otsuka entered and won the Miss Maui beauty pageant, a preliminary contest for the Miss Hawaii pageant.

Lehua Bissen, one of the pageant's producers, recalled that Otsuka stood out for her skills at the piano. But Bissen said that pageant organizers later stripped Otsuka of her title after questions were raised over her high school transcripts.

"She did not take it gracefully," said Bissen, a 1979 Miss Hawaii. "She fought it."

Otsuka later attended the University of Hawaii. According to school administrators, she was enrolled at UH in 1990, 1991 and 1996 but did not complete a degree.

Otsuka's resume also noted that she attended Columbia University in New York, where she was a presidential scholar. However, a college administrator said there is no record that Otsuka attended Columbia.

Otsuka's resume also lists a number of high-profile volunteer positions and directorships with local nonprofit organizations.

The resume noted that she served on boards or was a volunteer for the Hawaii chapter of the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society's Hawaii Pacific Division. But both organizations said Otsuka did not serve on their boards and that they have no record that she served as a volunteer.

City & County of Honolulu

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