Despite criminal probes and 'godfather' allegations, Mehau was n - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Despite criminal probes and 'godfather' allegations, Mehau was never charged

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  • Friends remember Larry Mehau, a powerhouse in Hawaii politics

    Wednesday, December 23 2015 5:12 PM EST2015-12-23 22:12:39 GMT
    Wednesday, December 23 2015 11:41 PM EST2015-12-24 04:41:09 GMT
    Big Island rancher and businessman Larry Mehau was 86. Image Source: Honolulu Star-AdvertiserBig Island rancher and businessman Larry Mehau was 86. Image Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser

    Influential Big Island businessman Larry Mehau, once a powerhouse in Hawaii politics who served as a Honolulu police officer before starting a private security company, has died.

    More >>

    Influential Big Island businessman Larry Mehau, once a powerhouse in Hawaii politics who served as a Honolulu police officer before starting a private security company, has died.

    More >>
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Despite allegations that he was an organized crime figure and numerous investigations that lasted for years, Larry Mehau, who died Tuesday at 86, was never charged with a crime.

A lot of power, mystery and myth surrounds the late Big Island rancher, one-time member of the state Land Board and a confidante to governors and top entertainers such as the late Don Ho.

"Am I supposed to cut all my ties with people who become powerful, if that's the term they would like to use?  I don't think I'm powerful," Mehau said in a 1985 interview with KGMB, in which he denied being an organized crime figure.

When Hawaii News Now asked retired Honolulu Advertiser investigative reporter Jim Dooley, who spent decades writing stories about Mehau, if the influential figure was involved in organized crime, he said: "I don't know the answer to that."

He added, "He certainly had influence and had friends and was able to tell them what to do and how to act or what not to do or how not to act." Dooley’s new book, “Sunny Skies and Shady Characters,” devoted an entire chapter to Mehau.

Mehau was the subject of several criminal investigations over the years, including the federal “Firebird” probe, none of which resulted in criminal charges.

 "The Internal Revenue Service and Drug Enforcement Administration spent countless hours and dollars investigating those and never came up with anything solid," Dooley said.

Former state Sen. Rick Reed first alleged Mehau was the godfather of organized crime in a 1970s Maui newspaper article that Mehau later sued him and others over.  Mehau eventually lost the lawsuit.

Former Honolulu Star-Bulletin investigative reporter and investigative blogger Ian Lind summed up Mehau by saying he had an "imposing career that somehow he put together based on this mystery that no one really knew what he did."

A former vice cop and one-time sumo wrestler, Mehau owned and ran Hawaii Protective Association, which was the state's largest private security firm with security contracts at all state airports and harbors.

"That gave him an incredible reach, an incredible clout.  He knew everything about everybody," Lind said.

During Mehau's unsuccessful libel and invasion of privacy trial that ended in 1992, then-U.S. Attorney Daniel Bent testified that Mehau was a"significant organized crime figure with substantial influence in state government."

In a deposition in the case, Bent said he believed a federal investigation of Mehau could have resulted in criminal indictments of Mehau if witnesses had not been frightened for their lives.

Hawaii News Now contacted Bent on Wednesday, but he said he couldn't talk about the case.

Mehau served as a behind-the-scenes adviser to the late entertainer Don Ho. The two attended Kamehameha Schools together and were old friends.

"When mainland organized crime figures tried to get their hooks into Don Ho, Mr. Mehau interceded and they went away empty handed," Dooley said.

Mehau had strong ties throughout Hawaii’s entertainment community, and helped politicians providing acts for fundraisers and other events.

"The opening day at the legislature was often all the pomp and circumstance associated with that included well-known entertainers who were organized by Mr. Mehau who prevailed upon them to get up much earlier than most entertainers like to and come down to the legislature and entertain," Dooley recalled.

In 1977, activists George Helm and Kimo Mitchell disappeared at sea trying to return from Kahoolawe, after a trip there to protest military bombing of the island. Helm had previously said he was going to start investigating corrupt land deals and there was a rumor that Mehau may have had something to do with Helm’s disappearance.

Lind was then a member of the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, a group working to end the bombing of what was then called the target isle.

A group of about 10 Kahoolawe activists had a meeting at the Board of Land and Natural Resources conference room which Mehau attended, Lind remembered.

"He said, you know, I heard these rumors, it's not good for any of us.  Who wants to say these things to my face?" Lind said.

None of them could offer specifics, Lind recalled.

Mehau assured them he was not involved in Helm's disappearance. Activists told Mehau they wanted to meet with then-Gov. George Ariyoshi about Kahoolawe, Lind said.

"He got on the phone and said only a few words: 'Larry ... meeting.' Hung up and said, 'Alright, you got a meeting, 10 o'clock you know, be at the governor's office it's all set,’” Lind said.  

“And we'd never known anybody who could just call and say 'I need a meeting right away,' and that was it," Lind said. "He was an imposing guy who demonstrated both his personal physical stature and also his political clout."

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