HPD sergeants, officers charged with criminal offenses in - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

HPD sergeants, officers charged with criminal offenses in overtime probe

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After months of investigation, two Honolulu police sergeants and five officers have been charged with multiple criminal offenses for an alleged overtime scam.

"Tampering with a government record" is a charge that all seven face. The offense is a misdemeanor, but is considered career-ending if a police officer is convicted of it.

Prosecutors say the probe involving members of HPD's DUI enforcement team has led to more than 200 drunken driving cases being tossed out of court.

"Cases get dismissed over the course of a year all the time for one reason or another," Arkie Koehl, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said. "When 200 get dismissed at a single time, that's extremely disturbing."

Two sergeants are accused of fraudulently collecting overtime by claiming in police reports that they were present at DUI roadblocks even when they were not. Five of their subordinates are suspected of filing the false reports.

Sgt. Aaron Bernal, who is a 19-year HPD veteran, is charged with two counts of theft by deception and five counts of tampering with a government record.

Sgt. Duke Zoller, who has 17 years of police service, is charged with two counts of theft by deception and three counts of tampering with a government record.

Ofr. Christopher Bugarin is charged with two counts of tampering with a government record. He has been on the force for 11 years.

Ofr. Patrick Bugarin has been with HPD for seven years. He's charged with three counts of tampering with a government record.

Ofr. Leighton Kato, a nine-year police veteran, is charged with three counts of tampering with a government record.

"He didn't receive a penny from this," Thomas Otake, Kato's attorney, said. "He didn't receive any overtime pay that he didn't deserve. I mean, it's really absurd."

Ofr. Michael Krekel and Ofr. Brian Morris, who have 12 years and 10 years of service, respectively, are each charged with two counts of tampering with a government record.

Otake says prosecutors used broad strokes to charge nearly every officer on the DUI team.

"Had they gone case by case, officer by officer, my client, Officer Kato, would not have been charged," Otake said. "Other than being in the division, he's done nothing wrong."

MADD Hawaii is concerned about DUI offenders getting off the hook as a result.

"Research shows that you have to drive drunk at least 87 times before you get arrested for the first time," Koehl said. "These are people who got arrested but were probably driving many, many, and will continue to drive many more times drunk. That's appalling."

The defendants, except for Morris, entered not guilty pleas through their attorneys at Honolulu District Court Monday. Morris' arraignment is scheduled for Thursday.

All have been stripped of their police powers and re-assigned.

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