Former Maui County public official charged with fraud in public corruption case
September 15, 2022, 2:07 PM HST
* Updated September 16, 5:32 AM
A former Maui County public official has been charged in one of the largest fraud and public corruption cases investigated by the United States Attorney’s Office in Hawaiʻi.
Stewart Olani Stant, 55, is accused of a conspiracy, which spanned about six years from 2012 to 2018, during which time in his capacity as a manager and then the director, he is accused of steering contracts to H2O Processes, LLC, a company run by Hawaiʻi businessman Milton Choy.
Stant was employed by the Department of Environmental Management, which has three different divisions. He was at one point in time the manager of the Wastewater Division, and then became the director of the Department of Environmental Management.
Stant is charged with honest services fraud for allegedly depriving the citizens of the County of Maui of his honest services as a public official in the amount of approximately $2 million. During a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, US Attorney Clare E. Connors said both men were included in felony informations that were unsealed today in federal court, revealing what was described as “public corruption type charges.”
Choy is the same individual identified as “Person A” in the bribery case involving former Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English and former State Representative Ty Cullen.
Choy was one of the first individuals arrested, as authorities continue to probe public corruption in Hawaiʻi. Officials with the US Attorney’s Office say Choy engaged in cooperation early on, which led to a number of prosecutions that have already been reported.
In this latest information, Choy is charged separately in a felony information with bribing Stant while he was employed as a public official on Maui. In exchange, authorities say he allegedly received upwards of $19 million in business contracts with the County of Maui.
Choy’s Information charges that the alleged bribery of Stant, violated federal law because “the value of the contracts exceeded $5,000 and Maui County received more than $10,000 in federal funding during each of the calendar years of the continuing scheme,” according to the US Attorney’s Office.
According to the US Attorney’s Office, the investigation identified financial transactions that they say constitute honest services fraud and bribes received by Stant.
“If you look at the information charging Stant… you’ll see upwards of I believe $773,176 in checks or direct deposits that were made into accounts under Stant’s control. You’ll also see $644,570 in cash deposits that were made into these same accounts… You’ll also see that Choy provided to Stant more than $400,000 in travel benefits. These were trips to Las Vegas, thousands of dollars worth of gambling casino chips that were provided to Stant by Choy, also hotels and other benefits,” according to US Attorney Connors.
Despite being required by the Maui County Charter to disclose any and all gifts that were received by persons while Stant was a public official, Connors said he disclosed none of it.
“This Information charges that by accepting the bribes to funnel contracts to H2O, and corruptly failing to disclose them, Stant conspired to commit honest services wire fraud and deprived the citizens of Maui County of their right to his honest and conflict free services as a public official,” according to a department press release.
US Attorney Connors described how the investigation began. “This was reported to us by somebody who saw something and didn’t think it looked right. [They] saw a substantial amount of work going to one particular company, saw a lot of money received by this company that didn’t look right. So they reported it to law enforcement.”
Justice officials say that the defendants are on notice that authorities will be seeking forfeiture of up to $2 million from Stant and up to $15 million in proceeds from Choy.
If convicted, Stant faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000 for honest services fraud. If Choy is convicted, he faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000.
A court appearance for both defendants is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. The appearance includes arraignment and pleas to the felony informations before the honorable Derrick K. Watson.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Steven Merrill also spoke at today’s press conference saying, “Public corruption is the FBI’s No. 1 criminal investigative priority.” He said, “Today’s announcement on the public filings, charging these two individuals engaged in a corrupt scheme is an example of our efforts in combating corruption. Both individuals individually profited from the scheme with no regard to the fact that citizens of Maui County would be defrauded. They were emboldened to continue the scheme for many years until their greed caught up with them,” said Spec. Agent Merrill.
Authorities say an information document is merely an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant US Attorneys Ken Sorenson, Micah Smith and Michael Albanese of the District of Hawaiʻi. As of Thursday, Sept. 15, neither individual was in custody.
*This is a developing story. Further details are being added to this post.