5 city planning department employees charged in months-long federal corruption investigation

Updated: Mar. 31, 2021 at 5:00 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A major public corruption bust at the City Department of Planning and Permitting has led to charges against several current and former employees Tuesday.

The alleged scheme involved hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

Earlier this month, a federal grand jury handed down wire fraud charges against Wayne Inouye, the city’s former chief building inspector, and supervisor Kanani Padeken, who has been on leave since December.

Several other DPP staffers facing similar charges are Jason Dadez, Jocelyn Godoy and Jennie Javonillo.

The charges were unsealed today and the FBI arrested several of the former and current DPP staffers this morning.

Hawaii News Now first reported on the investigation in December when one of the city employees received a target letter from the feds. The city was unaware of the federal probe until Hawaii News Now asked for comment.

[Read the previous report: Federal corruption probe targets city planning department employees]

“Our citizens entrust their government with great authority and power. It is our responsibility to the communities we serve to represent them ethically and transparently,” said Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Eli Miranda. “The FBI will bring all its resources to bear and vigorously pursue criminals who attempt to defraud the American people and our institutions.”

The city issued a statement in response to the federal indictments, saying three current employees were placed on immediate leave with pay pending the outcome of their cases. Two others named in the indictments are retired DPP employees.

“The department is disappointed by today’s events and we certainly do not condone the activities alleged in the indictments. These alleged activities should not reflect on the more than 200 dedicated DPP employees who work hard every day to ensure the health and safety of the citizens of Honolulu,” the city’s statement said. They declined further comment.

A sixth person, 71-year-old William Wong, was also charged, however he is an architect and not an employee of the department.

This is believed to be the largest federal investigation into a payoff for permit scheme at the DPP.

However, the practice has been long suspected during the recent building boom, as many homeowners often have to wait months to renovate or add a room to their house, due to the heavy backlog of applications.

Skipping an inspection or issuing a permit without a proper review not only speeds up construction, but can cut costs for a developer.

Attorney Megan Kau represents a builder who paid more than $100,000 DPP staffers during the past year.

“We’re looking at hundreds of thousand of dollars that these people profited from at the expense of our community,” Kau said.

Kau — whose client is a cooperating with the feds — believes the problem is widespread.

“It’s common knowledge. I can talk to any contractor and architect and say, ‘Hey do know this is going on?’ They all know it’s going on. It’s common knowledge,” Kau said.

Kau said DPP staffers allegedly called her client and other contractors and developers soliciting the payoffs.

“They say hey if you want to get your permit passed through, you’re going to have to pay. And if they refuse to pay, they get kicked to the bottom of the list and their projects don’t get approved,” Kau said.

Inouye’s, Javonillo and Godoy’s initial court appearances are set for Wednesday morning.

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