DOJ criminal probe seeks more than 30,000 documents from rail authority

(Hawaii News Now)
Published: Feb. 15, 2019 at 5:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A federal grand jury has subpoenaed more than 30,000 documents from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation as part of a criminal investigation.

The focus of the U.S. Department of Justice investigation is unknown.

However, HART said it was told to provide “documents and files that largely duplicate those recently provided and made available to the state auditor.”

The documents include consultant contracts, contractor change orders, archaeological studies, and correspondence with the Federal Transit Administration regarding the rail project’s full funding rail agreement.

[Read more: There’s another audit out on rail. It’s just as bad as the other ones]

[Read more: Blistering audit blames political rush to construction for ballooning rail costs]

“Right now, all we know is that we’re being directed to provide a lot of documents,” said HART CEO and Executive Director Andrew Robbins. He added that “we continue to move forward with this project" and that he doesn’t expect the investigation to affect the disbursement of federal funds for rail construction.

Randy Roth, a retired law professor and vocal HART critic, called the subpoena “a big deal.”

“We’ve had a number of noncriminal audit activities in the past and they’ve discovered a lot of things that made it clear there’s been incompetence," he said. "But this is the first time you’re to have a group looking specifically for the possibility of criminal activity.”

In January, the state auditor released two critical reports on the beleaguered rail project.

Both faulted rail officials for missteps that led to project costs ballooning 80 percent ― from the original estimate of $5.1 billion to more than $9 billion. The project’s completion has also been pushed back to 2025.

The subpoena, as described, is very broad. That suggests that the investigation could be in its beginning stages.

A criminal investigation would likely focus not so much on waste or poor management but on possible insider deals or even payoffs in return for business or more money.

Panos Prevedouros, Professor and Chair of Civil Engineering at University of Hawaii, has been a longtime rail critic. He welcomes the scrutiny.

“Some of the things we should have known earlier, if we were brave enough to conduct a thorough outsider forensic audit, but we’re too chicken for that. So somebody is afraid of what might happen and now they’re going to find out the very hard way,” Prevedouros said.

In a statement, HART said it “pledges its full cooperation in complying with the subpoena and wants to assure our many stakeholders that our staff and contractors will continue to work toward completing the project.”

Acting Mayor Roy Amemiya said the city is also encouraging HART to comply.

“The transit authority needs to continue building greater community trust,” Amemiya said, in a statement.

Meanwhile, City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine called the subpoena “disappointing” and said the project has been “plagued by mismanagement, broken promises and a lack of transparency."

“I’ve repeatedly asked HART and the City administration to explain missing documents, contracts, change orders and correspondence between 2006 and 2012. No one seems able to produce them so far," she said.

This story will be updated.

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