takes stand

The defense attorney portrays
the witness as "a woman scorned"

By Debra Barayuga

United Public Workers state director Gary Rodrigues defended receiving side payments from the life insurance company that provided benefits to union members as a legitimate business practice, his ex-girlfriend and former secretary testified yesterday.

Rodrigues said CEOs make deals with corporations and "had every right to make contracts with organizations handling the benefits," testified Georgietta Carroll, Rodrigues' secretary from 1982 and later administrative assistant until she resigned in 1998. "He said it was legal."

Doron Weinberg, Rodrigues' attorney, portrayed Carroll as "the woman scorned" and suggested she talked to police about things Rodrigues had done because she wanted to destroy him politically or professionally.

Rodrigues, state director of the 12,500-member UPW, is on trial in U.S. District Court for allegedly receiving $117,000 in kickbacks from the agent servicing the union's life insurance.

Rodrigues is also accused of overcharging members for medical, dental and life insurance benefits, and steering consulting fees to his daughter, Robin Haunani Rodrigues Sabatini, to benefit himself and other family members. Sabatini is charged with money laundering and mail fraud for receiving and depositing payments for consulting work that she allegedly did not perform.

Carroll, a former Miss Hawaii 1959, said after the UPW entered into a contract with Occidental Transamerica in 1990 and until 1993, company president Herbert Nishida, a former classmate of Rodrigues from Kauai, made monthly visits to the UPW offices on North School Street bearing a white envelope in his hand or sticking out of his pocket.

When she later asked Rodrigues what was in the envelopes, she testified, he would say, "We had another payment," or "We can go to dinner tonight."

Under questioning by Weinberg, Carroll said she had no documents to support her statements about the conversations she and Rodrigues had. She denied that she cooperated with a police investigation of Rodrigues because she wanted to harm him. But she acknowledged she was broken-hearted and angry because of how their 16-year relationship ended.

"This man took my heart and ripped it to pieces," she said.

She filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him in 1998, which was later settled.

She said she agreed to speak to police at their request in 1998 about an investigation they were conducting into Rodrigues and told them about certain situations that she felt were improper, including the Nishida payments.

Carroll also testified that Rodrigues paid her stepfather, Allan Loughrin, for consulting work that was never provided. Rodrigues explained the consulting fees were repayment for a $10,000 personal loan from her parents, she testified.

"He had borrowed money from my parents, but it was not being paid back out of his own pocket, but by union benefits," she said.

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