Lawmakers consider anti-corruption measures in wake of bribery scandal

State lawmakers are debating proposals to increase transparency and give law enforcement more tools to root out corruption.
Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 9:39 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 18, 2022 at 7:15 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State lawmakers are debating proposals to increase transparency and give law enforcement agencies more tools to root out corruption.

It’s something Hawaii has struggled with for decades.

One proposal would prevent members of the state House and Senate from holding campaign fundraising events while the legislature is in session.

“I think it’s clearly a conflict of interest when people are debating your bill or your issue, and then you ask them for money, you send them tickets,” said former state Sen. Sam Slom.

Slom said he introduced a similar measure when he was a lawmaker, but it got nowhere.

The current bill was actually introduced last year.

But it was spurred on by the corruption scandal in which former state Sen. J. Kalani English and former state Rep. Ty Cullen pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.

“It was something that shocked and angered many of us, and it’s one of the responses that we’re putting together, that the senate is putting together, to try to address the problem,” said state Senate Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads.

His committee also heard a bill that would create a unit in the Attorney General’s Office to investigate white collar crimes.

“We believe that these units are essential for us to be able to pursue the types of cases that we would like to pursue with the fraud, white-collar crimes and corruption cases,” state Attorney General Holly Shikida told lawmakers.

The measure would be just for the public sector.

In 2018, Lola Jean Amorin was sentenced to 25 years for stealing $7 million from a local nonprofit after a city investigation.

But in recent years, it was federal authorities who looking into Katherine and Louis Kealoha.

It was also the feds who raided the public access television station on Hawaii Island to investigate then-CEO Stacy Higa, who pleaded guilty to embezzlement and bribery.

Hanalei Aipoalani was sentenced for taking bribes when he was a city official in charge of federal funding.

And five city planning department employees were charged in a months-long federal corruption probe.

“It’s no accident that federal action has always been the area where we got things done,” Slom said.

The state wants to have more investigators.

“We have one individual in the criminal justice system right now who is focused on white-collar investigation and she is running herself ragged,” Deputy Attorney General Michelle Puu told the Judiciary Committee.

“I’m hoping that maybe with current event and with things going on right now that this Senate bill will be the start of major improvement,” said Slom.

The bill to form the investigative unit has passed three Senate committees and now goes to the House, while the Senate measure to ban campaign fundraising during legislative sessions gets a hearing before the Judiciary Committee.

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