Controversial developer of an Ala Moana project faces new legal problems

Updated: Oct. 31, 2019 at 6:33 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - 17 investors from China have filed suit against the developer of a pair of controversial Honolulu construction projects, saying he defrauded them out of their funds.

In lawsuits filed in state Circuit Court, Chinese nationals who invested in the Hawaii City Plaza and Hawaii Ocean Plaza said they put a total of about $10 million into the Makaloa and Sheridan Street apartments in 2016, hoping their investment would help them obtain a green card.

But the projects are now stalled, and the investors alleged that the developer Johnson Fang is responsible.

“(They) promised that the development project would be completed on time, but the projects are significantly delayed today, and more than not, a lot of the investment funds were possibly misapplied,” said Wen Sheng Gao, an attorney for the Chinese investors.

City Councilmember Kymberly Pine said she doubts that the developer will be able to complete the projects at all.

“If you’re going to lie to everyone in town in the State of Hawaii, you don’t belong here, no matter who you are," she said.

Fang, however, says the construction projects are still moving ahead. He blames the construction delays on permitting problems with the state Health Department.

He believes the investors are suing because they’re impatient with the immigration process.

“The conditional green card takes more than six years, and the permanent green card takes more than 10 years," Fang said.

The Hawaii City Plaza project has been controversial from the start. Two years ago, Fang threatened a boycott of Hawaii tourism when his permits were being held up by the Honolulu City Council.

At the time, the Council was concerned the developer wouldn’t be able to complete the projects, but it later green lit the plans after Fang agreed to hire local workers and work with a Hawaii-based contractor.

So far, those promises have not been met, and construction industry and union officials say they plan to monitor the development closely.

“We’re hoping they live up to their obligations and they do what’s right. But I think it remains to be seen," said Michael Formby, executive director of Pacific Resource Partnership. “There’s a lot of red flags, and sometimes when there’s smoke there’s fire.”

Both projects are supposed to be completed in the next two or three years, but it’s not clear how long they will be delayed -- or if they ever get built at all.

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