HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's now up to jurors to decide whether Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi is guilty of felony theft over his alleged abuse of a county-issued credit card.
Closing arguments in the case wrapped up Monday, with Kenoi's defense team portraying him as a devoted public servant whose only aim was to ensure the Big Island got its fair share while prosecutors told the jury the mayor sought to live "beyond the law."
Kenoi showed no emotion in court Monday morning as he listened to the state deputy Attorney General Kevin Takata address the jury during the state's closing arguments.
"This charge is not for being a bad mayor. The charge is theft," Takata said, adding that Kenoi never intended to reimburse taxpayers for thousands of dollars worth of personal charges on his county credit card until he was questioned by the news media.
"Five times he paid the county back, but he didn't pay for this. Five times he decided what to pay and five times he didn't. That's theft," said Takata, highlighting one transaction in which 802 days passed between the initial charge and reimbursement.
Kenoi is charged with two counts of second-degree theft, two counts of third-degree theft, and making a false statement under oath.
The state alleges Kenoi continued to violate the county's purchasing card policy despite repeated warnings by officials.
"He's not following the rules like everybody else. He's living beyond the law," Takata told jurors.
But Kenoi's defense attorney Todd Eddins said the credit card charges the state has focused on in their case are primarily public -- not personal -- expenses because they helped the mayor more effectively serve his community.
"Mayor Kenoi is a honorable and decent man. He's one of the best mayors in the country and he's been wrongfully accused by the state," Eddins said.
Kenoi has maintained he didn't do anything he didn't believe he was authorized to do.
When asked about multiple occasions in which he used his county-issued purchasing card to make hundreds of dollars worth of alcohol purchases, the mayor described the purchases as required for social engagements that were essential relationship-building efforts.
On the issue of alcohol purchases, Eddins told jurors, "This prissy and prudish puritanical attack on alcohol -- what is this, the Prohibition? Is this modern-day Saudi Arabia?"