Kenoi investigations six months later

Kenoi investigations six months later
Published: Sep. 25, 2015 at 11:04 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 25, 2015 at 11:25 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the state Attorney General's criminal investigation into Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi is wrapping up, critics complain that the county Ethics Board is doing little to investigate the mayor's misuse of his county credit card.

It's been about six months since the scandal over Billy Kenoi's pCard abuses broke. Several residents have filed ethics complaints against Kenoi but the Ethics Board has deferred action pending the Attorney General's investigation.

Many question the move, saying government agencies commonly conduct parallel civil and criminal investigations at the same time.

"I doubt (the Ethics Board) see much urgency to this. But I think that's the problem here," said Colin Moore, a University of Hawaii political science professor.

"They understand the public wants something to be done but they don't understand how frustrated the public is."

Kenoi has admitted that he used his county credit card at Honolulu hostess clubs and for other personal expenses. He's paid back more than $30,000 but it's not clear if he paid back all of the questionable expenses.

A Hawaii News Now investigation also reported in April that businesses paid at least $4,500 of the mayor's travel to Japan and Honolulu. But that Kenoi didn't file the proper gift discloses.

Five months later, Kenoi still hasn't filed those disclosures and the Ethics Board hasn't required him to do so. The commission had no immediate response and an attorney for Kenoi declined comment.

Big Island Councilwoman Margaret Wille said many residents are frustrated and suspicious with ethics officials' apparent lack of effort.

"There's a feeling that nothing's happening and nothing will happen," she said. "If you're gonna be on the Board of Ethics, you have to stand up and have a spine."

Moore believes the Ethics Board isn't aggressive about investigating the mayor because many of its members are Kenoi appointees.

"I think there's a perception among the public that our ethics commission are paper tigers. That they make a lot of threats but at the end of the day don't really do anything," he said.

Meanwhile, the AG's investigation appears to be coming to a head. Dozens of witnesses have been interviewed and scores of records have been subpoenaed. It's unclear when or if a grand jury will be convened.

The Attorney General's office decline comment.

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