Rail authority gets second subpoena in connection with federal criminal probe

(Image: Hawaii News Now/file)
(Image: Hawaii News Now/file)
Updated: Feb. 21, 2019 at 1:26 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - One year ago, HART sent its own internal review to the Federal Transit Administration that it may have overspent on the relocation of businesses and residences along the rail route. These documents are now part of the second federal grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Department of Justice and its criminal investigation into the $9 billion project.

To make way for the guideway, HART has to buy many pieces of property and help people and businesses relocate. In that internal audit, HART reviewed 18 out of more than 100 relocation files along the rail route. It found missing documentation, math errors and payments made without sufficient justification. Now the federal grand jury probe wants the records and names of the HART staff and consultants who managed those relocations.

"All I can tell you from what I've seen, I didn't see anything that I've seen that rises to the level of illegal activity. Certainly there may have been mistakes," said HART CEO Andrew Robbins.

Robbins says HART is complying with the subpoena. Two days before the grand jury notice, HART learned the FTA was sending relocation experts to Honolulu.

“I guess I was surprised because I thought it was being dealt with by the FTA, but then again, because we self-reported that there were some irregularites maybe it’s not a surprise,” said Robbins.

Managers who approved the relocations that may have been overpaid are no longer working with HART. The rail authority says it asked the federal government for $4 million in relocation reimbursements and it doesn’t expect to ask businesses and residents for money back. Robbins insists the project and its federal funding are still on track.

“Hopefully, at the conclusion of the federal grand jury’s probe, the public receives a full accounting of why the project’s costs spiraled out of control while officials swore by their numbers and promised transparency and accountability,” said Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine in a statement.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell says HART should fully cooperate with the investigation in a timely manner.

[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]

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.

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