Honolulu Lite
Charles Memminger

Liquor police have
become the criminals

I'M generally in favor of smaller government, but Honolulu desperately needs a new department called the Commission on the Honolulu Liquor Commission.

The sole duty of the commission would be to investigate the Honolulu Liquor Commission, which, though relatively small, has racked up an impressive rap sheet of felonies. The Honolulu Liquor Commission's job theoretically is to police the thousands of boobie bars and strip clubs, but its investigators commit more serious criminal acts than any of the club owners or employees. The Liquor Commission has been the most corrupt branch of government for decades. It either needs to be eliminated or the Commission on the Honolulu Liquor Commission needs to be established to continuously investigate this racketeering enterprise.

I don't use the word "racketeering" cavalierly. Historically, Liquor Commission agents have performed more like Mafia dons than investigators. They strong-arm and extort usually immigrant bar and club owners, using their power, instead of brass knuckles and baseball bats, to shut the places down.

The scope of organized criminal activity within the Honolulu Liquor Commission is staggering, not to mention petty. For years it was known, for instance, that if you wanted to open a bar you had to buy all your furniture from a certain buddy of one of the commissioners. But it wasn't until just a few years ago that this crime ring was penetrated and more than half the department's investigators were convicted in federal court of bribery, racketeering and extortion. (Apparently no furniture-related charges were brought.)

IN A DECISIVE act of self-policing, something like shifting the chairs on the Titanic, the Liquor Commission recently stripped its administrator, Wallace Weatherwax, of his duties. Weatherwax is a career government lawyer with a reputation for being about as exciting as tofu. His main claim to fame was to suggest that Liquor Commission investigators be allowed to carry firearms, which, at the least, would complete their gangster ensemble.

Why is the Honolulu Liquor Commission so corrupt? Because it attempts to control life on the darker fringes of society. Its job is to monitor every establishment selling booze, but most of them don't need monitoring.

It's the strip clubs and hostess bars where the real crime takes place -- shocking crimes like an adult employee of Club Buy Me Drinkee rubbing the leg of a consenting adult patron. Gasp. But Liquor Commission investigators up the crime ante and demand bribes for allowing the leg rubbing to continue.

Personally, I'd sleep better at night knowing that leg rubbing was going on all over town instead of the extortion of small-business owners by government agents.

Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com

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