DOJ issues target letter to city’s former managing director amid ongoing corruption probe

The US Department of Justice has issued another target letter to a former high-ranking city employee as part of a sprawling corruption probe, HNN has confirmed.
Published: Jun. 18, 2021 at 5:03 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 5:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The US Department of Justice has issued another target letter to a former high-ranking city employee as part of a sprawling corruption probe, HNN has confirmed.

Roy Amemiya, who served as city managing director under former Mayor Kirk Caldwell, was already on notice when he received a subject letter last year.

But this week, he was notified that he is now a target in the federal corruption investigation.

“It’s a large jump, because one is just a suspicion,” said attorney William Harrison, explaining the difference between a DOJ subject and target letter, “The other one is that we have evidence, substantial evidence against you. So it really turns into a much greater situation.”

Amemiya was the second highest-ranking city employee in the Caldwell administration and it’s clear that federal investigators are questioning Amemiya’s conduct during that time.

His name came up in a May 7 deposition with disgraced ex-Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, before he reported to an Oregon prison to begin serving his time.

Kealoha admitted that he had discussions with Caldwell and Amemiya, then managing director, regarding Ethics Commission investigations targeting the former police chief, his wife Katherine, who was a high-ranking deputy prosecutor, and other police officers.

All have since been convicted of conspiracy and obstruction.

Kealoha said in the deposition he couldn’t remember if he asked Caldwell or Amemiya to intervene to stop those investigations.

It’s not clear if that recent exchange is any way related to the new target letter. Rather, it’s believed federal authorities have tied Amemiya to Kealoha’s $250,000 payoff to retire in 2017.

Several other high-ranking city officials received target letters because of that deal.

That includes Donna Leong, who was the city’s top civil attorney. She went on paid leave after being notified by the US Department of Justice and then retired.

Former city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro took weeks to publicly admit that he also received a target letter. He was on paid leave for two years before a new prosecutor was elected.

“I think it’s extremely concerning. We have to remind our employees that we serve the public we have to keep in mind the public trust at all times,” said Honolulu Council Chair Tommy Waters.

Amemiya is still working at Honolulu Hale, which has proved controversial.

Councilman Calvin Say hired him as a special projects manager even though Amemiya had already received the subject letter.

Amemiya needed just months to reach the 10-year mark of city service. That qualifies him for 50% taxpayer-funded medical benefits for life.

Say admitted he did Amemiya a favor by giving him that opportunity, but also told Hawaii News Now he valued Amemiya’s knowledge and experience.

Waters did not agree with the decision.

“I want to remind my colleagues that we need to be mindful of the hiring process and to the extent that we could avoid this, we absolutely should,” he said.

Waters pointed out that he has no authority over council staff and couldn’t stop Say from hiring Amemiya.

Amemiya’s attorney, Lyle Hosoda, declined to comment for this story.

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