EXCLUSIVE: Grand jury in Kenoi case issues subpoenas

Published: Mar. 14, 2016 at 10:38 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 14, 2016 at 10:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Hilo grand jury will meet March 23 to investigate potential theft charges against Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi.

Hawaii News Now has learned that the panel has issued subpoenas to several county staffers about Kenoi's use of his government credit card.

Since taking office, Kenoi racked up more than $120,000 on his government credit card on meals and lodging at high end hotels and restaurants. He also used the card at Oahu hostess bars such as the Club Evergreen and the Camelot Restaurant Lounge.

Sources say investigators have narrowed their case to a handful of transactions. Legal experts say that's an appropriate strategy.

"If you pick something that's clearly unequivocally wrong and easy to prove then you're in a position of strength," said former city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle. "Even a fraction of what's rumored ... is so completely over the falls in terms of improper political behavior."

Kenoi has said he always planned to pay back the money. But investigators want to show that he only did so after he was warned or told to return the money.

Former Big Island Mayor Harry Kim recalls telling Kenoi not to use the card for personal expenses back when he hired him as his executive assistant.

"I just told him you have to be very very careful how we use this pCard," said Kim. "People trust us with this card."

Kim says Kenoi  -- whose attorney declined comment today -- has lost the trust of voters on the Big Island.

"Yes it is overdue," Kim said. "This is way overdue."

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