Despite conviction, rail spokesman allowed to stay on the job

Updated: Sep. 5, 2019 at 5:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A rail official who pleaded guilty earlier this week to falsifying the results of an election when he worked for a Hawaii union will keep his job for now.

Andrew Robbins, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s CEO, said he isn’t sure of the “extent of the charges” against Russell Yamanoha ― even though they’re in the public record ― and will wait to make a decision about his employment status until Yamanoha’s sentencing in December.

Yamanoha earns about $88,000 a year at HART.

“He does a good job for HART. My understanding is he has plead guilty on a misdemeanor charge on an unrelated matter, something outside of his employment at HART. It is a misdemeanor he has plead guilty to,” said Robbins.

Rail critics said the decision is puzzling given Yamanoha’s position in the media relations department and HART’s already-negative public relations image.

The agency is also in the midst of its own federal investigation.

“It’s a bit surreal that an organization that needs public trust would have as a spokesman somebody who has basically plead guilty to a form of fraud," said rail critic and retired University of Hawaii law professor Randy Roth.

Public relations experts said Yamanoha’s conviction not only will damage his credibility but could harm HART’ public image.

“Once the individual has pleaded guilty to something like this, then they’re in a bad situation,” said longtime public relations executive David Wilson.

Yamanoha who has served as the media contact for rail and written media releases for HART. But HART’s boss says he’s not a spokesman.

“He is not the public face of HART. His job is not front-facing. He’s more of a back-office employee," said Robbins.

Yamanoha, a former sportscaster, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to a misdemeanor conspiracy charge linked to his time at the embattled electrical workers union.

He admitted he and three current and former workers at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260 rigged a union vote in 2015 to increase membership dues.

As part of a plea deal, Yamanoha agreed to testify against his ex-boss ― former IBEW 1260 business manager Brian Ahakuelo ― who along with his wife and sister-in-law were indicted last month on 70 counts of embezzlement and wire fraud. The Ahakuelos have pleaded not guilty.

[Read more: Authorities outline ‘shocking’ fraud, money laundering case against ex-union head]

Yamanoha, who is out on a $10,000 bond, could face up to a year behind bars, but will likely see little time because of his cooperation with prosecutors. His sentencing is set for Dec. 10.

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