High ranking DOE supervisors fined thousands for ethics violations

Updated: Nov. 23, 2019 at 5:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Ethics Commission has fined three high-ranking supervisors in the Department of Education’s facilities maintenance branch for misusing state employees on private construction projects.

The largest fine of $11,000 was issued to Scot Sueoka, the DOE’s general maintenance and services supervisor. The commission also fined administrator Francis Cheung $750 and engineer William Gebhardt $3,500 for misusing state employees.

“Subordinates can feel coerced or pressured to do work for their supervisors even if may not want to," said Daniel Gluck, the commission’s executive director.

Between 2013 and 2018, the commission said Sueoka hired DOE maintenance branch staffers to do construction work on his homes in Kailua and Pauoa.

The commission also alleges that one of his subordinates worked 20 days on each of those homes at no cost to Sueoka.

But Sueoka said all of the work was done on weekends and not during the employees’ state work hours and that he paid the workers -- all friends of his -- the market rate of about $300 dollars a day.

He said he initially believed that the arrangement did not violate state ethics law but agreed to settle after the commission told him he faced fines of up to $143,000.

“It’s unfair,” he said.

“I know the kind of work they do, the quality of the work they do. I wouldn’t want to hire a contractor off the street or off the Internet.”

He added that the subordinate who was accused of working for free for 20 days on his homes couldn’t have done that much work on his homes.

“At the time my friend -- my real close friend who is a carpenter -- was undergoing cancer treatment. There was no way he could help me 20 days," Sueoka said.

Sueoka also told us that the the DOE and the Attorney General’s office have been investigating the matter for years but have reached no findings.

The AG investigators were also looking into allegations of theft of DOE building materials but didn’t substantiate the allegations, said Sueoka, who said he has sales receipts and invoices for all building materials that he used.

Hawaii News Now has been asking the DOE for records of those investigations since March and we were told by the DOE that they don’t exist.

Hawaii News Now specifically asked for subpoenas, correspondence with the AGs office and internal investigations by the DOE but the department said it didn’t have any such records.

These investigations were independently confirmed in recent months to Hawaii News Now by sources familiar with the DOE and AG investigations.

We asked DOE spokeswoman Lindsay Chambers for further comment today but she had no response.

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