Plea Agreement Means Rutledge Out at Unity House

Published: Feb. 6, 2006 at 11:42 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 7, 2006 at 12:42 AM HST
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Tony Rutledge outside the Federal Building Monday.
Tony Rutledge outside the Federal Building Monday.
Judge David Ezra exits the Federal Building following Monday's court proceedings.
Judge David Ezra exits the Federal Building following Monday's court proceedings.

(KHNL)  A nine year ordeal that has been the federal investigation and prosecution of former labor leader Tony Rutledge came to an end Monday, when a federal judge accepted his plea agreement.

"I never thought that it'd be that difficult to plead guilty to a felony," said Rutledge, outside the Federal Courthouse. "And I never thought it'd be a happy day for me when it was finally decreed that I should be convicted."

Rutledge, the former leader of Unity House, and his son Aaron, had been under investigation since 1997 and faced 13 criminal charges. They included tax fraud and conspiracy. Both pleaded guilty to just one count each.

"From day one, we knew this was a circus to happen and at least the circus is over," said Aaron Rutledge.

Tony Rutledge pleaded guilty to one felony count of aiding and assisting in filing a false tax return connected to "star Beach Boys."

He was sentenced to 3-years probation and must resign from Unity House immediately.

"After 7 years, millions of dollars and 3 indictments, everybody now agrees... that nothing that Mr. Rutledge did required him to spend even one day in jail," said Jeff Rewitz, Rutledge's attorney.

"I plead guilty to a Star Beach Boy infraction, for that, now I get knocked out of the box," said Tony Rutledge.

Unity House is a private non-profit organization dedicated to supporting, protecting and improving the quality of life for Hawaii's workers. It was founded by Rutledge's father, Art Rutledge, in 1951. Tony Rutledge was the group's former leader.

"One is left to wonder, after all these resources have been expended, what was really accomplished," asked Rewitz. "Was it all about getting Rutledge to leave Unity House?"

"Fine, this is what they wanted -- this is what they got," said Rutledge.

Aaron Rutledge pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of witness harassment, and sentenced to a year probation. He must also resign from his post at Unity House, but could return when his probation is up.

"We extended these plea offers, and we're very comfortable with what we offered and what was accepted," said U.S attorney John Cox.

Cox said prosecutors were more concerned with who they say are the real victims -- the 20,000 members of Unity House.

"Our whole effort in the negotiations was to give Unity House a chance to right itself and become a fully functional and vibrant association once again," he said.

As part of the agreement, the federal receivership controlling Unity House is over, and will be out after 4 months. Judge David Ezra said that would be enough time for the group to finish up several legal issues still facing Unity House.

The Board of Directors will also be re-instated.