EXCLUSIVE: Ethics Commission investigates golf perks - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

EXCLUSIVE: Ethics Commission investigates golf perks

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Government contractors provided thousands of dollars in free golf outings for more than a dozen state workers who deal with their projects.

Hawaii News Now has learned that the state Ethic Commission is winding down its year-old investigation into golf perks, which targets a number of employees at the University of Hawaii and the Department of Transportation.

"I would say its more inappropriate for state officials to get these kinds of gifts than politicians. State officials are not elected. They go to their jobs, they're not accountable to voters," said Colin Moore, University of Hawaii political science professor.

Details of that investigation have not been disclosed but  recent filings with the ethics commission by DOT and UH employees indicates just how widespread the practice is.

For instance, one Maui-based DOT employee, highways engineer Ferdinand Cajigal, received more $800 in free golf outings from contractor SSFM International Inc. SSFM has received more than $8.5 million in DOT contracts since 2009, according to the state procurement office.

A UH architect, Bruce Teramoto, disclosed that he received nearly $1,300 in golf perks from Bowers + Kubota Consulting Inc. During the past two years, Bowers + Kubota received more than $1 million in UH work. Figures before 2013 were not available on UH's procurement site. 

"For a lot of these firms, it's simply the cost of doing business and this has got to stop because it makes people trust their government less," Moore said.

The commission's investigation will be present to the agency's full board at its next meeting. Stiff fines are likely to be proposed.

Under Hawaii law, a state worker is not allowed to accept the gift if a reasonable inference could be made that the gift somehow influenced the award of the contract or influenced the state worker in the performance of his duties. 

State workers are also required to disclose gifts over $200 in their annual disclosures but in several of these cases, the DOT and UH workers made their disclosures several years after the fact.

Last year, the commission issued a $7,500 fine against a DOT engineer for taking part in a golf charity event at the Mauna Lani Resort in 2010. The entry fee was valued at $200 but the event also included door prizes such as a $5,000 Rolex watch, a $160 pair of Oakley sunglasses and free hotel accommodations.

Those gifts were allegedly paid for by Bowers + Kubota and other DOT contractors such as Mitsunaga and Associates and R.M. Towill Corp., the commission said.

That fine against the unnamed DOT worker was just the first phase of the commissions investigation.

Bob Watada, former executive director for the state Campaign Spending Commission, said firms such as SSFM and Bowers + Kubota should know better.

Back in 2003, the commission fined SSFM a record $303,000 for making more than $400,000 in excessive campaign contributions. And both of Bowers + Kubota's top officers -- Brian Bowers and Dexter Kubota -- paid hefty fines for making illegal political donations.

"They do whatever they need to do to get the contracts. If that means influencing the key decision makers so be it," said Watada.



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