Judge throws out charges from state's largest gambling case
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For a second time, felony gambling charges against the owners of several Oahu game rooms have been dismissed.
Judge Rom Trader issued a sharp rebuke to prosecutors over their handling of the case before dismissing the charges with prejudice Tuesday. The dismissal with prejudice means the owners cannot be indicted a third time, though that ruling can be appealed.
"The state's had two opportunities and through their own failures, simply has not gotten it right," Trader said. "A third opportunity would not be fair for these individual defendants."
The ruling is a significant blow to prosecutors, who had been publicly criticized for their handling of the case the first time around.
In 2014, the three Oahu game room owners were indicted on 414 counts, in the biggest gambling case in Hawaii history.
Judge Randall Lee subsequently dismissed the case, saying tainted evidence was used and a key witness committed perjury. Some of the same tainted evidence was used to get the second grand jury indictment earlier this year.
The game room owners -- Tracy Yoshimura, Gene Simeona, and Mike Miller -- were charged with a whittled down 47 counts. After their arrests in May, they said they were being unfairly targeted by police and the city prosecutor's office.
In issuing Tuesday's ruling, Trader said the "repeated failures of the prosecution suggest either a pattern of negligence at the very least, or perhaps worse, bad faith."
Attorneys for the three game room owners said the case has taken a significant emotional and financial toll on the defendants.
"Mr. Yoshimura, his family, he lost his home," said his attorney, Myles Breiner.
Tommy Otake, who represents Gene Simeona, says that while the three are relieved by the ruling, they're aware of the effects this case has had.
"They were innocent, trying to do the right things, run legitimate businesses," Otake said, adding that the men sought opinions at the state and county levels on the legality of the devices before opening their arcades years ago.
They also paid taxes and registered their businesses.
Attorney Keith Kiuchi was emotional after the ruling. "This was a wrong that needed to be righted," he said.
Meanwhile, the sweepstakes machines remain in police custody. The owners are working to get them back, and plan to pursue a civil suit as a result of their losses.
City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro declined an on-camera interview with Hawaii News Now, but did say in a statement that he is "deeply disappointed" with Trader's ruling and disagrees that this office acted inappropriately.
"While I take responsibility for any delays my office contributed to, the court also must be held accountable for its inability to set timely dates," he said. "My office acted in good faith and in the interests of the people of Honolulu. It is important to note that the dismissal was not based on the merits of the case. What hasn’t changed is the ruling that the machines that were seized are gambling devices."
Kaneshiro added that his office will consider whether their are grounds to appeal Tuesday's ruling.
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