HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - One former Halawa Prison corrections officer has admitted to profiting from thousands of dollars of bribes by members of the state's largest and most powerful prison gang, while another former is accused of receiving thousands more in bribes from the group.
When federal law enforcement officials announced the indictments of 17 Hawaii inmates and one former corrections officer last week, they gave general statements about alleged wrongdoing by members of the USO Family prison gang, but did not go into detail about the activities of the two prison employees who are accused of helping the USO Family gang thrive behind bars.
Former Halawa prison guard John Joseph Kalei Hall pleaded guilty a year ago after a federal indictment accused him of smuggling cigarettes into the prison and selling them to members of the USO Family gang, allowing them to control the flow of contraband at Halawa.
Federal prosecutors said Hall was paid between $10,000 and $30,000 in bribes by gang members there.
Authorities said Hall sold cigarettes to the USO Family gang for $500 a carton and then gang members re-sold the cigarettes to other inmates, making about $1,000 per carton.
Prisons officials have estimated that contraband cigarettes are sold for anywhere from $200 to $500 a pack behind bars.
Cigarettes were banned from Hawaii prisons in 2010, a prisons spokeswoman said.
Hall resigned from his job at Halawa in February and has been sentenced to one year and one month in federal prison.
But there's now a "sealed" or secret motion to modify his sentence and a new sentencing recommendation that's also secret, suggesting he could be a cooperating witness.
Another former Halawa guard, Feso Malufau, 54, was indicted along with five inmates for racketeering conspiracy and charged with multiple acts of fraud, bribery and distributing marijuana and crystal meth.
A previous federal indictment accused Malufau of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes for smuggling contraband into Halawa.
The feds are also going after Malufau and his wife for failing to disclose their bribery income and a property in Hauula on their bankruptcy filing at the end of 2011. So they now risk losing that bankruptcy protection.
Prisons officials said they fired Malufau last September for another reason they will not disclose but they said it's not related to the USO prison gang operation.
The FBI said the USO prison gang originally was founded by Samoan-American inmates from Hawaii at an Oklahoma prison in 1998 and the group spread to other prisons on the mainland and in Hawaii.
"Over the last 15 years, the USO Family has evolved from a small ethnic prison group to a full-scale modern urban gang," said Vida Bottom, who's in charge of Honolulu's FBI office. "Over time, the organization evolved into a multi-cultural, mixed-race prison gang, with no ethnic Samoan requirement for membership."
The 17 Hawaii inmates indicted by the federal government have been removed from Halawa Prison and other mainland facilities and are now in federal custody.