HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) -Embattled former labor leader Brian Ahakuelo pleaded not guilty to federal embezzlement and wire fraud charges today.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260′s past business manager was released on a $50,000 bond. His wife Marilyn and sister-in-law Jennifer Estencion also pleaded not guilty to similar charges.
Ahakuelo is accused of spending tens of thousand of dollars of union money for travel to Las Vegas and Virginia and to pay off the loan on his wife’s Toyota truck.
He’s also accused of conspiring with four other current and former IBEW officials -- Russell Yamanoha, Michael Brittain, Lee Ann Miyamura and Daniel Rose -- to rig union votes to increase membership dues.
All four have agreed to testify against Ahakuelo as part of a plea deal.
Attorneys for Ahakuelo and Estencion said today that they plan to challenge the credibility of those witnesses.
“We’ll have to see whether or not they were telling the truth or they were self serving in trying to protect their own selves because they could have been easily named in this indictment," said Ahakuelo’s attorney Louis Ching.
Added Megan Kau, Estencion’s lawyer:
“The whole case is going to depend on their credibility and I believe they’re the ones at fault. They plead guilty. They admitted that they did it," Kau said.
Criminal defense attorney Myles Breiner said the conflicts between the seven current and former union officials will make for tense courtroom drama.
“It has all of the characteristics of a soap opera. Certainly the government’s indictment fuels the soap opera atmosphere by alleging all types of misconduct, misdeeds," Breiner said.
In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Albanese said the government’s case is based on “tens of thousand of pages” of records and evidence seized from 11 separate computers.
Trial scheduled for the week of October 27th but because the case is so complex, it’s likely to be pushed back several months.
In the meantime, Ahakuelo will be allowed to travel to his home in Virginia and to the Big Island, where he is working.
This story will be updated.