OHA pays $70K to controversial scholar for work he never produced

Updated: Feb. 14, 2017 at 7:05 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Office of Hawaiian Affairs paid $70,000 to a former felon at the center of the Hawaiian sovereignty debate for a report he never produced, according to internal agency documents obtained by Hawaii News Now.

Back in 2009, the state agency hired Keanu Sai to produce a book-length study on the history of land tenure in Hawaii.

It was supposed to be completed in a year but Hawaii News Now learned that Sai never turned in a page of that report.

OHA finally wrote off the contract in 2015.

"Six years has (passed) ... with no clear print date in sight, OHA decided to terminate," wrote Lisa Watkins-Victorino, OHA's research director.

Political watchdog and native Hawaiian Ian Lind said OHA should have never hired Sai in the first place.

"I think it's worse than wasted. It's gone to support this false theory of how Hawaii got to be where it is and it's leading his followers in a very dangerous direction," Lind said. "It's the kind of a theory that lends itself to con artists and fraudsters."

Sai lectures on Hawaiian Studies at Windward Community College and is a former high school classmate of OHA CEO Kamanao Crabbe.

But he's also a convicted felon. Seventeen years ago, he was sentenced to five years probation for attempted theft.

His company Perfect Title convinced people to stop making mortgage payments because the illegal overthrow of Hawaii rendered land titles invalid.

"People have lost their homes. People have gone to jail," Lind said.

Sai said he dropped the study because it would have justified the current land title system, which he believes is illegal. He's not returning the money to OHA.

"I did the research, I did it," he said.

And he maintains that he did nothing wrong in the Perfect Title case.

"When they raided our office, I was arrested for racketeering, money laundering and theft. That was pretty outrageous. And then they dropped the charges and they got me on attempted theft of property," Sai said.

Despite Sai's failure to produce his first report, OHA CEO Crabbe hired Sai again for $25,000 in 2014.

Crabbe wanted a report to follow his controversial letter to Secretary of the State John Kerry, asking Kerry to clarify whether the Kingdom of Hawaii still exists.

The report was completed but questions linger.

Dissident trustees say that Sai's contract is one of the many reasons that a financial audit of OHA is needed, a point of contention that has caused infighting within the agency at recent board meetings.

"The Keanu Sai contracts are the tip of the iceberg. They show that there is a culture of awarding money that isn't being supervised," OHA Trustee Kelii Akina said.

Former OHA Chairwoman Rowena Akana added, "Do you blame the person who got the contract or do you blame the people at OHA for not following through. I blame the people at OHA for not following through."

Akina and Akana were part of a group of trustees seeking to oust Crabbe from his $150,000-a-year job. He survived and Akana was later removed as chair. That group of trustees is now backing an audit of OHA's finances.

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