Former Senate majority leader, 2nd lawmaker charged with taking big bribes for legislative action
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Former Senate Majority Leader Kalani English and state Rep. Ty Cullen, who resigned Tuesday, took thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for legislative actions ― including killing bills ― meant to benefit one or more associates, federal prosecutors say.
The allegations emerged Tuesday ― first in federal filings and then in a news conference.
“It is important that our legislators, our public officials engage in our services to the public free of corrupt practices,” U.S. Attorney Clare Connors told reporters.
“We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute government officials who use their positions for illegal enrichment.”
In a statement, English’s attorney Richard Sing said the former lawmaker is “extremely remorseful” and “will be taking formal responsibility in the form of a guilty plea ... in the coming days.”
Meanwhile, the state House said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that Cullen had resigned effective immediately after the allegations came to light and that a replacement would be nominated.
On Wednesday, Cullen’s lawyer confirmed he would also plead guilty.
Prosecutors say Cullen took more than $23,000 from an “industrial services contractor” in exchange for legislative actions, while English took more than $18,000 from an identified businessperson.
Both face one count of honest services wire fraud, a felony publishable by up to 20 years behind bars.
The allegations were included in information documents, which usually means the defendant has negotiated terms of a plea agreement in advance of being charged.
Prosecutors allege that English accepted bribes from a company in the wastewater management field that could benefit from government-funded cesspool replacement programs.
The bribes allegedly came in the form of hotel rooms, but also in cash. And in one particularly outrageous incident, prosecutors said, English took $10,000 to kill cesspool bills.
That bribe allegedly happened around March 2020, when English met someone in their vehicle and discussed a series of bills that “Person A” wanted killed until the following legislative session.
“Well it’s easy to kill bills. It’s hard to pass them,” English told “Person A,” according to prosecutors.
In a separate incident in January 2021, English allegedly met “Person A” in his vehicle again and accepted $5,000 in cash. “I can definitely use that right now. All the mortgages have become due,” English replied, according to prosecutors. “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
Based on the court filings, it appears “Person A” was cooperating with authorities and recording conversations with English. Shortly after English allegedly accepted the $5,000, FBI special agents conducted a traffic stop of the vehicle with English and “Person A.”
In the court filing, prosecutors said English “made an unsuccessful effort to hide the $5,000 under the front floor mat of Person A’s vehicle.”
English did not disclose the money and gifts from the company in required disclosure filings. Prosecutors said the fraud started as early as January 2015 and continues through January 2021.
The former Senate majority leader retired from the state Legislature in April 2021, saying that he was experiencing symptoms of “long COVID.”
A state Senate spokesperson had no immediate comment on the filing.
Cullen, meanwhile, is accused of accepting gifts and benefits dating back to 2014 in exchange for “official actions as a legislator.” Specifically, the lawmaker ― who represented a district that runs from Village Park to Makakilo ― is alleged to have accepted four cash payments. He’s also accused of accepting casino chips at a New Orleans gambling hall that cashed out at $22,000.
“The FBI makes it a priority to protect everyone in the state of Hawaii, including in protecting the public’s trust,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill.
“Corruption poses a fundamental threat to our way of life and will not be tolerated.”
COURT FILING AGAINST ENGLISH:
COURT FILING AGAINST CULLEN:
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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