HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - About a month after the Attorney General's office's charities division opened a civil investigation into questionable spending by the Bishop Museum's former CEO, Hawaii News Now has learned that the AG's office has launched a separate criminal probe.
Multiple sources say the museum is cooperating with the criminal investigation and has handed over a number of documents relating to its former president Blair Collis' use of his museum credit card.
Sources say that the criminal investigation is wide-ranging and could lead to theft, fraud and even money laundering charges. But legal experts said it's a difficult case because the museum board allowed the questionable purchases to go for years and did little to curb Collis' spending.
"They're really accomplices if they're enabling the people using the cards to use them for improper purposes," said defense attorney Victor Bakke. "(It's) kind of a debacle."
Collis could not be reached and the museum had no comment.
According to several sources, the criminal investigators are looking at a number of charges that don't appear to be related to Collis' work at museum, such as items Collis bought at Bed, Bath and Beyond, Tamura's Fine Wine & Liquors, and at the Ala Moana Cartier jewelry store.
The case has a number of parallels with another high-profile investigation that's being conducted by the Attorney General's office: the investigation into p-Card abuses by Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi. Like Collis, Kenoi is accused of using his work credit card to make tens of thousands of dollars in questionable purchases, including a surf board and a high-performance training bicycle. Both paid back a majority of the expenses but only after questions were raised about their purchases.
"You do also see similarities which is basically you have an individual using someone else's credit card with little or no oversight," Bakke said.
Attorney General Doug Chin's criminal investigation is separate from a civil investigation his office is conducting.
That civil investigation could result in fines not just against Collis but also against the board for allowing the misspending to go on for so long.