Prosecutors: Kaneshiro, alleged co-conspirators tried to frame woman for crime

His alleged co-conspirators include a high-powered businessman, Dennis Mitsunaga, and members of his firm.
Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 12:25 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 17, 2022 at 7:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The federal charges against ex-city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro stem from an alleged attempt to go after a woman for a crime she didn’t commit as a favor to prominent campaign donors.

In addition to Kaneshiro, the indictment names four co-defendants ― campaign donors who all work for architectural and engineering firm Mitsunaga & Associates.


They’re accused of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and bribery.

According to the indictment, Kaneshiro and his co-conspirators ― high-profile businessman Dennis Mitsunaga, Terri Otani, Aaron Fujii and Chad McDonald ― allegedly worked to frame a former Mitsunaga & Associates employee for a crime she didn’t commit.

A state judge later dismissed the criminal charges against the former employee for lack of probable cause.

The alleged motive for the frame job? The former employee had sued the firm for discrimination after being fired.

In exchange, federal prosecutors said, Mitsunaga and his network and employees made some $50,000 in contributions to Kaneshiro’s reelection campaigns between 2012 to 2016.

As part of the conspiracy, federal authorities say Kaneshiro met with Mitsunaga and his attorney on Oct. 4, 2012, to talk about filing criminal charges against Mitsunaga’s former employee.

Three weeks later, prosecutors say, company executive Aaron Fujii, Mitsunaga, his wife, his lawyer, and a business partner contributed a total of $13,250 to Kaneshiro’s campaign. About three months later, Mitsunaga’s niece ― Terri Otani ― Mitsunaga and his wife contributed another $10,000 to Kaneshiro’s campaign.

Those contributions came four days after Mitsunaga and Kaneshiro allegedly had a lunch meeting over the case.

Victor Bakke, a defense attorney, said to prove the case authorities will likely present witness testimony, emails and other documents linking the contributions to Kaneshiro’s alleged role in the false prosecution.

“A lot of their case is based on circumstantial evidence,” Bakke said. “They don’t appear to have somebody directly handing Mr. Kaneshiro money and asking him to do something to earn that money.”

Kaneshiro and all four co-defendants pleaded not guilty in court Friday afternoon. Their trial is set for the week of August 16.

Prosecutors said the allegations against the ex-Mitsunaga employee were “baseless.”

“This indictment alleges a Honolulu businessman and others paid $50,000 in campaign contributions to Honolulu’s former Prosecuting Attorney to prosecute a former employee,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman, in the Southern District of California.

“Public officials must conduct their affairs honestly and with integrity. The Department of Justice will work to hold accountable anyone who betrays that duty through the influence of bribes.”

White-collar crime expert and former Judge Randal Lee called the allegations jaw-dropping.

“It really is a black eye to the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney,” Lee told Hawaii News Now on Friday. “Candidates run for office and people give money, obviously. This kind of indictment indicates how the donation worked.


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