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Former Honolulu prosecuting attorney indicted in bribery scheme with businessman

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Former Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro

In a federal indictment unsealed today, former Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro and Honolulu businessman Dennis Mitsunaga are charged 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, according to US Department of Justice news release.

Kaneshiro, 72, and Mitsunaga, 78, owner and CEO of Mitsunaga & Associates, an engineering and architectural firm, were arrested at their homes Friday 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, 66, Aaron Shunichi Fujii, 64 and Chad Michael McDonald, 50.

All five are charged with Conspiracy to Commit Federal Program Bribery and Honest Services Wire Fraud, with a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison, and Conspiracy Against Rights, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

“The citizens of Hawaiʻi 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 Hawaiʻi.”

The long-running public corruption investigation was led by a special prosecutor from California. US Attorney Randy Grossman in the Southern District of California: “Public officials must conduct their affairs honestly and with integrity.

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Kaneshiro was first elected as a public official in 2010. He was re-elected in 2012 and 2016 for four-year terms. In 2018 Kaneshiro received a target letter from the US Department of Justice. He was on paid leave for two years until his term was up in 2020.

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According to the 21-page indictment, Mitsunaga wanted a fired employee, Laurel Mau who is identified in court records as L.J.M., to be prosecuted after that employee filed a federal discrimination suit against Mitsunaga’s company. In a 2012 lawsuit, Mau accused Mitsunaga & Associates of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

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.

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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 Hawaiʻi law.

The prosecution of L.J.M. continued for several years until her case was dismissed with prejudice in a written order by Hawaiʻi 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.

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