Maui Business

Another former Maui County official charged with taking bribes

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US Attorney Clare E. Connors. PC: screen grab file 9.15.22 WebEx press conference when charges for fellow DEM official Stant were unveiled.

Another former Maui County official with the Maui County Department of Environmental Management is the latest individual to be charged with taking bribes in a scheme tied to Honolulu businessman Milton Choy.

Wilfred Tamayo Savella, 71, of Maui County, was charged with accepting bribes from Choy by “initiating, awarding and/or acting as DEM’s primary contact person for sole source contracts issued by Maui County to DEM.”

The charges were included in an information that was unsealed on Thursday, and announced by United States Attorney Clare E. Connors and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill.

The information alleges the activity occurred between approximately 2013 through 2017, and included the receipt of cash, bank deposits, at least one gambling trip to Las Vegas, casino chips, and/or other financial benefits, totaling over $40,000. The United States Attorney’s Office District of Hawaiʻi alleges that the funds were received in exchange for Savella’s agreement, “in his official capacity at the DEM to assist in the awarding of lucrative sole source contracts and purchase orders to Choy’s company.”

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A court appearance for Savella is scheduled for Dec. 5, 2022, at 11 a.m.

Choy pleaded guilty in September 2022, to bribing another Maui County official, Stewart Stant.

Stewart Olani Stant, 55, who was employed as manager of the Wastewater Division, and then the director of the Department of Environmental Management, is accused of steering $19 million in contracts to H2O Processes, LLC, a company run by Choy. According to court documents, Stant is accused of accepting $2 million in bribes as part of the conspiracy, between 2012 and 2018.

Stant also pled guilty in September 2022. Both Choy and Stant are awaiting sentencing. Sentencing is set for Jan. 4, 2023 for both men. Stant’s sentencing is set for 10 a.m. and Choy’s is set for 9 a.m.

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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 that was announced in February. 

English was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. Media reports indicate Cullen pleaded guilty in February to one count in connection with his acceptance of bribes when he was a lawmaker.

“Corruption by public officials degrades the integrity of our government institutions and tarnishes the important work done every day by honest public servants,” said United States Attorney Clare E. Connors in a department press release. “Our office continues to investigate and prosecute corruption at all levels of Hawaiʻi government.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill said Savella was in a position of public trust when he allegedly violated that by accepting thousands of dollars in bribes according to the FBI investigation. “These charges should send a very clear message that the FBI will vigorously pursue allegations of corruption at every level,” said SA Merrill.

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If convicted, Savella could face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000.

The US Attorney’s Office District of Hawaiʻi notes that an information 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 investigation in the case was conducted by the FBI. Assistant US Attorneys Ken Sorenson and Micah Smith are prosecuting the case.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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