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In whistleblower suit, former OHA executive claims he was fired for questioning spending

Updated: Jan. 27, 2021 at 5:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A former high-ranking Office of Hawaiian Affairs executive has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the organization.

David Laeha, OHA’s former chief financial officer, alleged that former OHA CEO Kamanao Crabbe began to retaliate against him just months after he was hired in 2017 and eventually fired him in 2019.

His suit alleged that he was fired because because he questioned why OHA was not properly reporting millions of dollars in expenditures to state lawmakers and to the public.

“What he found was that they were very sloppy, he found that they went out of their way to avoid the kind of transparency which was necessary,” said Eric Seitz, his attorney.

“At every stage, he made complaints and criticisms to his superiors and much of the time they just ignored him until finally they fired him.”

But in an interview with HNN, Crabbe said Laeha made similar allegations in a discrimination complaint that has since been dismissed. He called the suit “another attempt to seek unwarranted financial gains.”

As CFO, Laeha served as the watchdog for OHA’s $350 million trust and its million of dollars in grants and scholarships.

Laeha’s suit also alleges he was fired because he rejected grant applications that didn’t go out for competitive bidding like they were supposed to or when the grants were issued to an ineligible company or organization.

These are some of the same practices that were heavily criticized in a state auditor’s report in 2018. Federal authorities are also investigating.

“We have a long history with these kinds of agencies where people are very sloppy about how they administer funds that belong to other people and how they use their positions to benefit friends,” said Seitz.

OHA declined comment.

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