HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Ethics Commission has fined four top current and former Hawaii Tourism Authority executives more than $12,000 for failing to report that they received free travel upgrades from international airlines.
The commission fined current CEO George Szigeti $1,750 for receiving courtesy upgrades to business class from Japan Airlines in 2015.
HTA Chief Operating Officer Randy Baldemor was fined $6,000 for receiving free upgrades to business class from Japan Airlines, China Airlines and Air China between 2015 and 2016.
The commission said former HTA Vice President David Uchiyama also received free business class upgrades from China Airlines, Air China and China Southern Airlines, resulting in a $2,500 fine.
Jadie Goo, the HTA's marketing director for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South East Asia was fined $2,000.
None of the executives reported the upgrades, worth more than $200 each, on their mandatory annual gift disclosures.
"State officials can't use their positions to get perks or benefits that aren't available generally to others," said Daniel Gluck, executive director of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission. "The state can only pay for economy class and that's how they're required to travel. If they have their own miles from their credit card, they can use that to upgrade themselves, but generally the state shouldn't be paying for those kinds of upgrades."
The ethics commission also took into account that one of the airlines offering the upgrades, Japan Airlines, does significant business with the HTA, with contracts valued at more $1 million.
Szigeti and HTA issued the following statement on Monday:
"We have put a policy in place strictly forbidding any courtesy travel upgrades when conducting business on behalf of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. We regret that this happened and appreciate the clarification from the Ethics Commission that courtesy travel upgrades are not available to any state employee."
"I think often in life we often say it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, but the ethics code is really one of those areas where it's important to ask first before you end up in a situation that can cause problems," said Gluck.
Gluck said Szigeti and Uchiyama have both paid their fines.