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Federal prosecutors who led corruption probe into Kealohas make it clear they’re not finished

The focus of the latest probe is becoming clearer.
Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 6:07 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A week after three ex-city executives were arrested by the FBI for conspiracy, agents and the special prosecutor investigating public corruption in Honolulu were back before a federal grand jury.

Among the long list of witnesses, which means they are not targets of the investigation:

  • Former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who testified in the morning and again after lunch
  • And Ann Kobayashi, who served on the City Council.
Colleen Hanabusa leaving the federal courthouse
Colleen Hanabusa leaving the federal courthouse(None)

Kobayashi said she was asked about campaign donations from engineering and architectural firm Mitsunaga and Associates, Inc., a company with strong political ties.

Their employees and family members of employees have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars over decades to various campaigns.

Federal prosecutors are looking into some of those contributions.

Ann Kobayashi leaving the federal courthouse
Ann Kobayashi leaving the federal courthouse(None)

The line of questioning shows Dennis Mitsunaga and the firm’s connections are part of the case that the FBI and special federal prosecution team, led by Michael Wheat, are focusing on.

Wheat, out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego, was originally appointed to prosecute Louis and Katherine Kealoha, the ex-police chief and deputy prosecutor who were convicted of obstruction and conspiracy in 2019.

That investigation led federal authorities to former Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, once the city’s top civil attorney.

She was arrested last week along with Roy Amemiya, Honolulu’s former Managing Director, and Max Sword, who served as the police commission chair.

In a stunning scene Wednesday morning, three former high-ranking city officials surrendered to...
In a stunning scene Wednesday morning, three former high-ranking city officials surrendered to the FBI as part of the ongoing massive public corruption probe that resulted in the conviction of ex-Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine.(Hawaii News Now)

All were indicted last month by a federal grand jury on a conspiracy charge.

“What we’ve seen before is Mr. Wheat and his team are focusing on one issue, but then when they do that they find a second issue and then sometimes they find a third issue,” said Alexander Silvert, a retired federal public defender who worked with Wheat on the Kealoha case.

Wheat’s team is also zeroing in on Keith Kaneshiro, the ex-city prosecutor for Honolulu who is suspected of improperly prosecuting a former Mitsunaga and Associates employee who sued the firm.

Kaneshiro’s campaigns received more $50,000 in donations from the firm.

Keith Kaneshiro is not running for re-election amid federal scandal, says his attorney
Keith Kaneshiro is not running for re-election amid federal scandal, says his attorney

Kobayashi was a grand jury witness last year, too, ahead of the indictments of Leong, Amemiya and Sword. She praised the use of a prosecution team from outside Hawaii to weed out corruption.

“That’s what’s good about having someone come in and look at the way we do things here,” Kobayashi said, ”I think that we need that to help clean up whatever we need to clean up.”

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