Ex-assistant police
chief alters plea
in food scam

He pleads no contest to 2nd-degree
theft to avoid a lengthy trial

By Leila Fujimori

The highest-ranking Honolulu Police Department officer ever to face criminal charges pleaded no contest yesterday to second-degree theft in a 2001 food scandal.

Retired Assistant Police Chief Rafael Fajardo Jr., 61, changed his not-guilty plea in Circuit Court a day before jury selection in his trial was scheduled to begin.

"Rank has no privileges, not at the expense of taxpayers' money," said Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee.

Lee said he was surprised by the plea.

In 2001, Fajardo and a police major were charged with using city money to buy extravagant food items to feed top HPD brass under the pretense the food was going to prisoners.

Despite Fajardo's plea, his attorney, Howard Luke, said his client would have been acquitted of the charge had he gone through a trial. Luke said Fajardo wanted to avoid the expense to himself and disruption to the HPD from a lengthy trial with numerous witnesses.

Luke said that after assessing the risk of trial, Fajardo decided to change his plea.

"Mr. Fajardo did not authorize, nor did he know that forms (for money for prisoners' food) which were supposed to be utilized for prisoners were instead used to purchase food for police officers, nor did he have any knowledge that there were thefts occurring of food from the Central Receiving Division," Luke said. "But he was the administrator, and he accepts full responsibility for having been charged with the duties of the Central Receiving Division, including the procurement and the distribution of food."

Fajardo faces a maximum five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine when he is sentenced April 29 before Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto.

Luke said he hopes for a deferral of the sentence and ultimately a dismissal of the charge. If granted a deferral, Fajardo's record would be wiped clean and have no criminal record after a probation-like period.

Fajardo and retired Maj. Jeffrey Owens were indicted in August 2001 on one count each of second-degree theft.

The two were accused of buying expensive food items including beef ribeye, top sirloin steak, rack of lamb and breakfast foods and instructing workers to prepare meals to feed high-ranking officials and police officers in the Central Receiving Division while they were in command from 1995 to 2000.

Two food preparation workers were expected to testify at trial. They had pleaded guilty to theft charges and admitted to ordering and preparing the food at the instruction of Fajardo and Owens.

Luke said Fajardo had nothing to do with diversion of the funds for prisoners' food, but other officers had confirmed they had taken such food. When he learned of it, Fajardo took steps to stop the theft, Luke said.

Fajardo has appealed the Police Commission's denial of paying for his legal representation to Circuit Court. A hearing in that matter is scheduled for early March. Owens was granted legal fees.

Owens waived his rights to a jury trial. Trial before a judge is set for March 3.

Police Chief Lee Donohue, who is attending a mainland conference and was notified of the plea, said through a spokeswoman: "It would be inappropriate to comment on the plea at this time because the trial with retired Major Owens is continuing."

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