FBI arrests attorney for prominent Hawaii business as part of corruption probe
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There’s been another arrest in the high-profile federal case against former city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, Hawaii News Now has learned.
Early Tuesday morning, the FBI moved in on attorney Sheri Tanaka’s California home, taking her into custody in connection with the alleged conspiracy.
Tanaka represents Mitsunaga & Associates, the engineering and architectural firm caught up in the public corruption scandal.
Tanaka was indicted last week Thursday by a federal grand jury.
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Hawaii News Now was in the courtroom when the jury foreperson announced the superseding indictment and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat asked the magistrate judge for an arrest warrant.
Tanaka was previously listed as co-conspirator 1 in the original indictment handed down in June.
Kaneshiro and Dennis Mitsunaga, along with employees of Mitsunaga’s company ― Terri Otani, Chad McDonald, and Aaron Fujii ― were charged with conspiracy and bribery.
According to the indictment, the firm’s employees contributed nearly $50,000 to Kaneshiro’s re-election campaigns between 2012 and 2016. In exchange, Kaneshiro allegedly prosecuted a former employee of Mitsunaga’s firm for a crime she didn’t commit.
The employee had sued the firm for discrimination.
A state judge eventually dismissed the criminal charges against the former employee for lack of probable cause.
Records show that Tanaka wrote three letters to Kaneshiro’s office in 2013, one in January, February and then July accusing the former employee of theft.
Hawaii News Now has seen Tanaka many times ahead of the indictment at the federal courthouse for grand jury proceedings.
She acted as the representative for all the Mistunaga & Associates employees who were called to testify, including the ones who have since been charged.
Tanaka made it known that she did not like news cameras or media reports about the case.
“Whoever leaked the false information to Hawaii News Now, and specifically you, Lynn Kawano, prejudiced the minds of the jurors, compromised the grand jury and did irreparable harm to Mitsunaga & Associates,” she said.
At a hearing Tuesday morning, Tanaka was not on the call but attorneys for the other five defendants told the court that they had not been provided the superseding indictment as it was not yet unsealed.
All maintained “not guilty” pleas on behalf of their clients.
The indictment was publicly released Tuesday afternoon and reads closely like the original indictment except it now names Tanaka.
Trial is set for March.
Legal experts said it is highly unusual for a private attorney to be indicted along with the clients.
“The justice department would have to approve that,” said retired federal public defender Alexander Silvert.
Tanaka will likely have a hearing in Los Angeles. Legal experts believe she will be allowed to post bond and then fly to Hawaii to appear for court proceedings.
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