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Hawaii’s History of Political Scandal

Federal investigations have touched virtually every level of Honolulu’s government, including the investigation into millions that were skimmed from a major city construction project, the rail.

The cost of the project has almost doubled from $5billion to over $10billion, and they are not close to being finished. Now, federal grand jury subpoenas have taken it into a new dimension.

Then there is the sentencing of Honolulu engineer Frank James Lyon, who confessed to paying bribes in exchange for multimillion-dollar consulting jobs here and abroad.

But let's start from the beginning. Here are a few examples of Hawaii's history of political scandal.

The police and gamblers

In 1947, Honolulu vice squad sergeant William K. Clark's safety deposit box was forced open and found to contain $140,000. A police officer's monthly salary at the time was just $300.

The money came from bribes paid by Honolulu gamblers. Payments to police from gambling and other forms of vice amounted to $1 million annually.

Clark implicated dozens of fellow officers, gamblers, and other underworld characters in illicit activities.

Kukui Plaza and Mayor Fasi

In 1976, the developer of a city-backed redevelopment project called Kukui Plaza was being squeezed by the Fasi administration for political donations and assistance.

An investigation was launched, followed by an indictment of Fasi, his chief political fundraiser, and Kukui Plaza developer Hal Hansen on bribery charges.

Pay-to-play politics

In 2000, the employees of a local restaurant made more than $25,000 in political donations to island politicians—from owners down to waitresses and cooks.

A similar story detailed more than $55,000 in political contributions made by officers and employees (including secretaries, a bodyguard and travel agent) of companies connected to a high-rolling businessman here named Sukamto Sia. Sukamto owned the Bank of Honolulu and was eventually convicted of federal bankruptcy and wire fraud charges.

Failure to prosecute

Many federal and state trials in Hawaii end in disaster for the government. The Massie trials, vice squad cases mentioned earlier, and the collapsed case against Frank Fasi and Harry Chung.

This also includes organized crime cases. For example, the murder prosecutions of mobsters Roy Ryder, Ronnie Ching, and Henry Huihui that fell to pieces in court.

There seems to be one thing that connects all of Hawaii's corruption cases in a way that speaks more to the problems endemic to the islands than it does to the individual political players.

That thing is money, or, more precisely, a type of personal and political self-interest that gives rise to an insatiable, grasping hunger.

In most cases, it seems like the politician's greed results in his making bad decisions -- but in almost all cases, those decisions are made with a greater degree of care and deliberation than one might expect from an otherwise greedy person.

The problem is that this kind of cycle fosters entrenched corruption without any obvious solution, except reform.

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