Police: Man arrested for demanding money from flood victims he 'rescued'

Kauai police say some flood-trapped residents were extorted during rescues
Published: Apr. 19, 2018 at 1:52 AM HST|Updated: Apr. 20, 2018 at 10:54 AM HST
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HANALEI, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A man has been arrested for allegedly demanding money from Kauai flood victims after picking them up on his boat.

Police identified the suspect as Stephen Koehne, a self-described "pirate" who has gotten into trouble with authorities before.

Koehne was arrested for extortion, robbery and terroristic threatening.

Kauai police and prosecutors are investigating multiple complaints from people who say they were rescued during the island's historic rain and flood event over the weekend — only to be extorted for money by those who they thought were simply good Samaritans.

A number of residents and visitors who were trapped in Haena after the town's only access road washed away during a flash flood told investigators that several people who took boats into the area represented themselves as rescuers and then demanded money for help.

"The boat operators would pull up on the shore and invite people onto the boat, with the idea they would carry them over to by where the St. Regis Hotel is, to get them to a place of safety," said Kauai Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar.

But the boat operators turned out to be anything but heroes.

Kollar said they would then stop their vessels about 200 yards off shore and demand payment to go any farther.

Big Island resident Liana Leaulii, who was hiking along the Kalalau Trail when the severe weather began, said that's exactly what happened to her.

"Once we were out in the middle of the ocean, they were like, 'Did so-and-so on the beach tell you it was $200 a head on the boat?'" said Leaulii.

Kauai police say they first became aware of the situation on Sunday, through postings on social media.

"We're not going to tolerate these type of extortion (attempts) of any visitors or locals. And to the people who are doing these things, we're gonna hold them accountable," said assistant Chief Bryson Ponce, of the Kauai Police Department.

Since the first reports, police and prosecutors say they've been able to find multiple victims and are actively working an investigation.

"That kind of conduct is just completely unacceptable," Kollar said. "And there has to be swift and serious action taken against anyone who's doing anything like this."

This story will be updated.

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