Former Honolulu Prosecutor Indicted on Bribery Charges
A former Honolulu prosecuting attorney was indicted today, Friday, June 17, in a bribery ploy involving several other defendants, the U.S. Justice Department announced.
Former Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Mitsuyoshi Kaneshiro and Honolulu businessman Dennis Mitsunaga are charged in an indictment that was unsealed today, with participating in a bribery scheme in which Mitsunaga and his network of employees and affiliates paid Kaneshiro more than $45,000 in campaign contributions to prosecute one of his former employees and violate that employee’s civil rights, a news release on the indictment stated.
Kaneshiro and Mitsunaga, owner and CEO of Mitsunaga & Associates, Inc., an engineering and architectural firm, were arrested at their homes this morning and will make their first appearances in federal court today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Wes Reber Porter.
Also indicted and arrested today were three of Mitsunaga’s employees – Terri Ann Otani, Aaron Shunichi Fujii and Chad Michael McDonald.
All are charged with conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and honest services wire fraud, and conspiracy against rights.
It’s the latest news of Hawai‘i officials being nabbed in bribery cases. In February, two legislators pleaded guilty to taking bribes to influence the outcomes of legislative bills, and the former City and County of Honolulu Deputy Prosecutor and her husband, the former Police Chief, were sentenced for bribery and corruption in a case that involved charges for multiple former public employees.
According to the indictment, Mitsunaga wanted a fired employee, identified in court records as L.J.M., to be prosecuted after that employee filed a federal discrimination suit against Mitsunaga’s company.
In order to influence the prosecutor’s office to open an investigation and file charges, Mitsunaga steered tens of thousands of dollars to Kaneshiro’s reelection campaigns between 2012 and 2016. In doing so, Mitsunaga circumvented campaign contribution limits by asking for contributions from family members, business partners, employees and subcontractors. The accusations against L.J.M. were baseless and motivated by a desire to intimidate L.J.M., the indictment said.
According to the indictment, in the summer of 2014, after a senior deputy prosecutor in Kaneshiro’s office recommended declining charges against L.J.M., Kaneshiro reassigned the case to a recently hired deputy prosecuting attorney, identified in court records as J.D.
Around Dec. 1, 2014, acting on behalf of Kaneshiro, J.D. filed a felony information against L.J.M., charging L.J.M. with four counts of second-degree theft under State of Hawai‘i law.
The prosecution of L.J.M. continued for several years until her case was dismissed with prejudice in a written order by Hawai‘i Circuit Judge Karen T. Nakasone on Sept. 15, 2017. The order of dismissal pointed out the “one-sided nature of the investigation” and the fact that the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney “was little more than acting as the recipient of, and conduit for” submissions provided by Mitsunaga & Associates.
The indictment alleges that in exchange for the contributions given to him by defendants Mitsunaga, Otani, Fujii, McDonald and others, Kaneshiro agreed to take official action and exercise his authority as the prosecuting attorney for the City and County of Honolulu to open an investigation into and prosecute L.J.M.
“This indictment alleges a Honolulu businessman and others paid $50,000 in campaign contributions to Honolulu’s former Prosecuting Attorney to prosecute a former employee,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman in the Southern District of California, in the news release. “Public officials must conduct their affairs honestly and with integrity. The Department of Justice will work to hold accountable anyone who betrays that duty through the influence of bribes.” Grossman thanked the FBI in Honolulu and the prosecution team for their work on this case.
“The citizens of Hawai‘i deserve a government free of corruption,” said Special Agent in Charge Steven B. Merrill of the FBI’s Honolulu Division. “Corruption erodes the public trust and the FBI is committed to ensuring that people cannot buy prosecutions in the State of Hawaii. Thanks to U.S. Attorney Grossman and the prosecution team for their teamwork and commitment to justice.”
The defendants in case No. CR 22-00048-JMS are:
Keith Mitsuyoshi Kaneshiro, 72, Honolulu, HI
Dennis Mitsunaga, 78, Honolulu, HI
Terri Ann Otani, 66, Honolulu, HI
Aaron Shunichi Fujii, 64, Honolulu, HI
Chad Michael McDonald, 50, Kaneohe, HI
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Conspiracy to Commit Honest Services Fraud and Federal Program Bribery – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 371
Maximum penalty: 5 years in prison
Conspiracy Against Rights – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 241
Maximum penalty: 10 years in prison.