Federal authorities zero in on Kaneshiro campaign donors in next phase of corruption probe

Campaign donors to Keith Kaneshiro are now grand jury witnesses
Campaign donors to Keith Kaneshiro are now grand jury witnesses(None)
Updated: Mar. 6, 2021 at 4:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A parade of Keith Kaneshiro’s campaign donors testified this week before the federal grand jury hearing evidence against the former city prosecutor.

It’s another twist in a widening federal corruption probe.

Six of those who testified were all tied to Mitsunaga & Associates, an architectural and engineering firm known for its political connections.

The company’s website shows some of the many government projects the firm has been awarded.

Construction consultant Dennis Mitsunaga gave money to support Kaneshiro’s campaigns for prosecutor in 2012 and again in 2016.

[Related coverage: Authorities who investigated Kealoha corruption scandal turn their attention to city]

The other donors were all employees or relatives of employees at Mitsunaga & Associates.

It appears the federal grand jury is hearing evidence surrounding the false prosecution of a former employee of the firm.

The woman was fired in 2011 and filed a sex and age discrimination lawsuit in 2012.

She lost that civil claim in 2014. Months later, Kaneshiro’s office prosecuted her for a crime she did not commit ― felony theft.

Neither the Honolulu Police Department nor the state Attorney General’s Office were involved, just investigators and prosecutors working for Kaneshiro.

Retired federal public defender Alexander Silvert said the FBI could be looking at this case as possible retaliation against the former employee.

“Looking at the potential and possible abuse of power or authority to prosecute someone’s enemies and protect someone’s friends,” Silvert said.

The two deputy prosecutors on that criminal case were:

  • Chasid Sapolu, who was deemed a subject of the federal public corruption case;
  • and Jake Delaplane, former deputy city prosecutor who worked alongside Katherine Kealoha in the failed prosecution of nine people in the state’s largest gambling case. The case was dismissed with the circuit court judge also questioning the conduct of the office.

The theft case against the woman was thrown out by Circuit Court Judge Karen Nakasone.

She wrote in her decision, “The flawed process and the flawed proof compromised the integrity of the charges against the aefendant.”

Silvert said the judge’s findings were strong and indicative of what the federal government is following up on. “It’s a powerful opinion that does seem to point a finger back at the Prosecutor’s Office for having done something improper,” Silvert said.

Many of the federal grand jury witnesses subpoenaed were also named as witnesses in the false prosecution of the former Mitsunaga employee.

Attorney Megan Kau said this shows that the federal government doesn’t just believe Kaneshiro was protecting Kealoha, but that there may be wrongdoing on his part, too.

“I think it spans now not just from what happened with Katherine Kealoha but to all kinds of improprieties even before Katherine Kealoha,” Kau said.

Hawaii News Now did send an email to the attorney for Mitsunaga and Associates, Sheri Tanaka, requesting comment. There was no response Friday.

Inside the courthouse, Tanaka accused the FBI agents of threatening and harassing her clients. Tanaka was heard telling the special prosecutor, Michael Wheat, that the grand jury process was unlawful.

An FBI agent asked Tanaka if she was recording her conversation on her phone while she was in the hallway outside the grand jury room.

Deputies with the US Marshals Service responded, but it’s not clear what happened after that. Recording inside the federal courthouse and especially surrounding grand jury proceedings is illegal.

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