Former no. 2 under Caldwell is working at Council to get taxpayer-funded benefits

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Updated: Jan. 26, 2021 at 6:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Roy Amemiya, who served as managing director in the Caldwell administration, is back at Honolulu Hale as a staffer for new Councilman Calvin Say.

Say described Amemiya’s position as a legislative liaison and said it’s a temporary position, lasting between six months and a year.

He told HNN that Amemiya just wanted the job long enough to hit 10 years of city service. That milestone comes with 50% taxpayer-funded medical benefits for the rest of his life, among other credits.

Amemiya was the second-in-command at Honolulu Hale under former Mayor Kirk Caldwell

He refused to put himself on leave last year despite receiving a subject letter from the US Department of Justice in connection with the federal probe into public corruption.

Legal experts describe a subject letter as concerning.

“The only people that get these types of letters are people that are, at least somewhat involved in some type of misconduct, whether they’re doing it themselves or they’re just around it,” said attorney Victor Bakke.

Bakke said the city needs to take the situation seriously, especially because the same special federal prosecution team from San Diego that already got convictions for top law enforcement officials Louis and Katherine Kealoha is investigating city officials at Honolulu Hale.

Bakke recalled some of the events involving the case, pointing out that the federal government seized emails ― including some connected to Amemiya ― in 2019 ahead of the subject letter.

“Then he testified before the grand jury, at least once, and he did not admit or acknowledge that he testified until the media brought it out,” Bakke said.

While Amemiya is the subject of the case, the target is Donna Leong.

Leong was the city’s top civil attorney when she received the DOJ target letter and put herself on leave. She retired last year.

Donna Leong
Donna Leong(None)

Prosecutors are investigating the 2017 pay off for ex-Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha.

Kealoha had a target letter and was on paid leave when he was offered $250,000 to retire ahead of his term ending. Kealoha has since been convicted for conspiracy, obstruction and bank fraud.

It is clear that prosecutors have now ramped up the case against Leong.

HNN’s cameras caught Councilman Brandon Elefante going in to the federal courthouse to testify before the grand jury last Thursday. Also there that day: Former Councilmen Trevor Ozawa, Ron Menor and Ernie Martin. And last month, Ikaika Anderson testified.

Amemiya’s top deputy, Georgette Deemer, had been subpoenaed twice last year along with workers in the Budget and Finance Office and Human Resources.

Ken Lawson, of the University of Hawaii Law School, said it all means an indictment is imminent because the head of the special prosecution team, Michael Wheat, would not spend so much time bringing in these government workers if he did not believe a crime was committed.

Lawson said Amemiya should not be working in government until an indictment comes down or the case is closed.

“It’d be different if he got the subject letter, the investigation is complete, his name is cleared. But we’re not there yet,” Lawson said, adding if Amemiya is cleared, there should be no reason why he cannot get another city job to achieve the 10-year mark and get the additional taxpayer funded benefits.

In a statement, Councilman Calvin Say said:

“To my knowledge, there have been no accusations of wrong-doing levied against Roy Amemiya. I am excited to have him on our team along with the extensive experience he has gained from serving as the Director of Budget & Fiscal Services as well as the Managing Director.”

To that, Lawson said, “It doesn’t come out of his pocket, the Councilmember’s pocket, it comes out of our pocket. That’s the problem with it, it’s easy to make decisions when it’s not your money.”

Amemiya will reach his 10 years of city service in a few months.

Say told Hawaii News Now then it’s up to Amemiya if he wants to stay.

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