Whistleblower alleges DLNR cover-up of helicopter misuse during marijuana raid

DLNR helicopter misuse, cover-up alleged
Updated: May. 23, 2017 at 7:17 PM HST
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(Courtesy: Windward Aviation)
(Courtesy: Windward Aviation)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Department of Land and Natural Resources enforcement officer is accusing his own agency of covering up the alleged misuse of a state-funded helicopter.

The DLNR's enforcement division frequently rents helicopters on Maui, using them to conduct federally funded marijuana eradication missions.

But on one of those missions, according to a DOCARE officer who spoke to Hawaii News Now on the condition of anonymity, two DLNR officers who flew back in 2010 took one of those helicopters to a remote area of the Valley Isle for a personal trip.

"Two of  the bosses of Maui's DLNR DOCARE decided to get on the helicopter and get dropped off to pick hihiwai for our administrator's daughter's wedding reception," said the DLNR source.

The administrator, the source says, is former DLNR enforcement chief Randy Awo. He wasn't the one on the helicopter, according to the source, but his son was – even though he wasn't a land department employee.

Hihiwai is a type of snail found in remote streams that are mostly accessible by helicopter.

"Our department are supposed to be the protectors of our natural resources," the source said. "The people that were in charge of this program were the biggest violators."

The department said it conducted two investigations – mostly recently in 2016 – and found no violations of law or policy. But in a statement, the agency confirmed the flight diversion.

"The helicopter was on a break from a federally-funded marijuana eradication operation, and the ... DOCARE officers were on personal leave," the department said.

State Sen. Will Espero says he heard from the whistleblowers who told him that they faced retaliation, a claim the department denied.

"There are some members of the rank-and-file who feel that management and the administration basically attempted to cover this helicopter situation up," said Espero. "My problem was that it didn't appear as if DLNR was taking (its investigation) seriously enough."

Espero says the investigation should have been turned over the state Attorney General's office, or the state ethics commission, but wasn't.

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