Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi is arrested, released

Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi is arrested, released
Published: Mar. 29, 2016 at 5:46 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 29, 2016 at 7:48 PM HST
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PAHOA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi has turned himself in after being indicted last week on theft charges by a Hilo grand jury.

Kenoi was arrested and released about 11 a.m. Tuesday in Pahoa. He's set to appear in court Wednesday.

Todd Eddins, the mayor's attorney, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that Kenoi is "heartened by the outpouring of support he has received from the people of Hawaii Island. He will continue to work tirelessly for his hometown."

Last week, after a months-long investigation, a grand jury indicted Kenoi in connection with his alleged misuse of a government credit card.

Kenoi was charged with two counts of second-degree felony theft, two counts of misdemeanor theft, three counts of tampering with government records and one count of false swearing.

The felony theft charges are each punishable by up to five years behind bars and a $10,000 fine.

Since taking office, Kenoi has racked up more than $120,000 on his county purchasing card, or pCard. Nearly all of that was for legitimate business travel, but about $9,000 was spent on personal items, including for high-end hotels and pricey meals.

He also used the card at Oahu hostess bars. Kenoi's used his pCard to pay for a $900 night at the Club Evergreen hostess bar back in 2013, and a $400 outing at the Camelot Restaurant and Lounge in 2009.

County purchasing credit cards are given to government workers to pay for supplies and work-related small purchases, and their use is supposed to be strictly monitored.

Kenoi has said he always planned to pay back the money he spent on personal purchases, but prosecutors are expected to argue that he only did so after he was warned or told to return the money.

If Kenoi is convicted before his term runs out at the end of the year, the law doesn't require him to resign his office but legal experts say he would be under pressure to do so.

Several Hawaii lawmakers have called on Kenoi to resign, saying that the investigation is hampering his ability to do his job.

"We all love Billy. I've had a good working relationship with him. And it's sad to see this happen. However, I think it's gone too far. And it's so unfortunate," said state Sen. Lorraine Inouye (D-Hilo, Hamakua, Waimea, Waikoloa, Kona), who served as Big Island mayor from 1990 to 1992.

Kenoi was 39 years old when he took office in 2008, becoming one of Hawaii Island's youngest mayors. He was the former executive assistant to Big Island Mayor Harry Kim, a fixture on the Big Island.

During the first several years of his tenure, Kenoi garnered statewide attention for his down-to-earth style and ability to bring together a diversity of stakeholders to find solutions. He was widely seen as a potential candidate for statewide office.

The last time a Hawaii mayor was indicted was in 1977, when Mayor Frank Fasi faced charges of accepting a $500,000 bribe from a developer. The charges were subsequently dropped.

Mobile users: See a timeline of Kenoi's tenure as mayor here.

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