HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
A former Halawa inmate who helped finance a prison drug smuggling operation has pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering charge.
Robin M. Lee, 53, admitted that he filed nearly 300 phony tax returns that generated $350,000 in bogus refunds for prisoners.
Those refunds were later used to pay for crystal methamphetamine and other contraband. Federal prosecutors allege the money was also used to bribe a Halawa Prison guard, Feso Malufau, who now faces federal charges.
"He and other members of the USO gang were involved in bribery and bringing in contraband such as cigarettes and ice into the Halawa facility," said Lee’s attorney Gary Singh.
Lee, who is currently in federal custody, faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Even though he was locked up in a maximum security prison, the feds said Lee somehow gained access to a computer and to an online stock trading service.
"Part of the record indicates that he had an E-Trade account and that's where some of the funds from the returns were being deposited into," Singh said.
Lee was one of 18 people indicted by federal law enforcement in their investigation into the USO gang’s smuggling operations at Halawa and other prisons.
About half have entered into plea bargains, including Opherro Jones, the ringleader of the Halawa gang.
USO was founded as the United Samoan Organization in 1998 by Hawaii prisoners who were sent to a private Oklahoma prison due to overcrowding here.
But since then, the organization has grown from a small ethnic gang into one of the most dominant prison and street gangs.
Lee is cooperating with law enforcement but he's likely to face a stiff sentence due to his lengthy criminal record. State court records show that he has more than 40 convictions, mostly on theft and drug charges.
Singh said Lee got involved because he needed protection.
"Based on my discussion with him, the USOs provided him with safety while he was in prison," Singh said.