The State VS Mayor Kenoi: Opening Arguments
The State of Hawai‘i vs. Mayor William P. Kenoi began on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, in Hilo’s courthouse.
Mayor Kenoi is on trial for alleged misuse of his county-issued spending card (pCard).
In the packed courtroom, Honolulu Circuit Court Judge Dexter Del Rosario and a jury of seven women and five men heard opening statements and testimony from the West Hawai‘i journalist who first broke the story, after requesting to look at the pCard spending.
Kenoi is on trial for eight separate counts: two counts of felony theft, two counts of misdemeanor theft, three counts of tampering with government records and one count of false swearing under oath.
State Prosecutor Michelle Pu‘u introduced 15 transactions in which Kenoi is accused of misusing his county-issued pCard. She pointed out that no receipts were provided by the mayor for any of the purchases, noting the receipts they do have were obtained through the attorney general’s investigation.
The transaction card summary should include information about the transaction—what it was for, what business, who was it with, etc.
Receipts for all pCard transactions are required. If no receipt is turned in, an affidavit is required to ensure it’s for a county purpose.
There were no receipts turned in for any of the 15 charges in question.
Between, May 11 to Oct. 20, 2011, there were nine transactions; in 2013, five transactions; and one in June 2013.
Among the transactions are:
Prosecutor Pu‘u introduced documents that showed the charges and description. The $425.62 charge was documented as Big Island Film Festival dinner for staff and volunteers. According to the receipt obtained by the attorney general’s investigation, the bill was for alcohol—liquor and beer. There was no food purchased at all, according to the receipt.
Originally the transaction card summary stated, “Miscellaneous purchase, county to be reimbursed,” but the document showed it had been crossed out and “Film Festival dinner for staff and volunteers at the Big Island Film Festival” was written in its place.
Defense Attorney Todd Eddins argued that Kenoi was, “Trying to woo. Trying to get these guys and he used his entertainment expenses.”
Chart House $140
Kenoi was on O‘ahu for the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards on May 5, 2011. The pCard was charged $140 just after midnight at the Chart House. The Prosecutor Pu‘u noted, “Largely alcohol, some food.”
Hilton Baltimore $479.88
Kenoi charged $410.22 at the Hilton Lobby Bar on the mainland, which he documented as “refreshments” on the transaction card summary. With a tip included, the total was $479.88.
According to the defense, Mayor Kenoi was engaging with U.S. Conference Mayors staff and dignitaries, “establishing relationships.” Eddins pointed out Kenoi was using his entertainment expense budget to build and strengthen relationships. Adding, “In his mind, these are legitimate expenses.”
Clydes Gallery $600
The day after the Hilton charge, Kenoi charged to a bar tab at Clydes Gallery on the mainland from 10:32 p.m. to 1:35 a.m. The transaction summary report showed Kenoi labeled the expense as dinner with U.S. Conference of Mayors. There was no receipt submitted. On Jan. 17, 2013, at 12:54 a.m. Kenoi charged $446.66, adding a $153.54 tip for what was described as a dinner for congressional staff. The itemized receipt showed there was very little food and lots of drinks, including eight Fireballs.
The defense argued this was Kenoi’s way of building and strengthening important relationships.
Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel $292.60
Listed as a miscellaneous purchase that the county would be reimbursed for, Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel transaction card summary showed a two-night stay for Kenoi’s nephew as a wedding present from Kenoi.
Kenoi’s defense said Kenoi always planned to reimburse for this personal charge.
Miscellaneous purchase for a bag from Target.
Romans Macaroni Grill $1,301.29
The description on the transaction card summary was blank and no receipts provided. The investigation revealed large amounts of alcohol and some food.
Eddins argued this was part of Kenoi’s Entertainment Expense Fund used to build and strengthen relationships.
Hilo Yacht Club $320
Described as, “Office Strategic Planning Luncheon.” Prosecutor Pu‘u noted that Kenoi’s schedule said “Kevin’s Fair Well Lunch at HYC.” Pu‘u explained, “Essentially a going away party.” The itemized receipt showed, “Lots of wine and alcohol.”
Labeled “lunch meeting,” Kenoi’s defense argued Kenoi was losing the “MVP” of his administration and this was an appreciation expense, as well as an attempt to bond with the remaining staff and forge a way to move forward as a team.
Longs Drugs & Sam Choy Poke Contest (mainland Longs)
The itemized receipt showed the Hawai‘i Island mayor used the county pCard to purchase pineapple juice, Heineken, Crown Royal, Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey and Bud Light from Longs at 7:10 p.m.
The transaction summary showed Kenoi said the expense was for the Sam Choy Poke Contest.
Prosecutor Pu‘u said, “At this time, the poke contest had been over for hours.”
Kenoi’s defense argues Kenoi was showing aloha and appreciation to volunteers and workers.
Longs Drugs $201.68 Mayor’s Exchange (Kona Longs) Luck of the Irish Golf Tournament
The Kona Longs purchase noted it was for the Tahiti Fete Event Mayors Exchange. According to the prosecution, with no receipt to reconcile the purchase, there was no way to tell what was bought or why. The receipt obtained during investigation show that just after 9 p.m. Kenoi charged $201.68 for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, Crown
The receipt obtained during investigation show that just after 9 p.m., Kenoi charged $201.68 for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, Crown Royal and a Crown Royal select. The transaction summary stated the purchase was for the event at 4 p.m. at Keauhou Bay.
Like the previous Longs purchase, Kenoi’s defense argued Kenoi was showing aloha and appreciation to volunteers and workers at this event.
Described as “Dinner with Oceanic Time Warner Staff, Re: Big Island Broadband Project,” Kenoi’s defense emphasized the importance of the broadband project and how Mayor Kenoi wanted to “woo” them.
Charged as Theft in the Third Degree, the Volcano House purchase was described as “Luncheon U.S. Conference with Visiting Mayors.” His secretary noted, this needed a receipt and may require an affidavit.
According to Eddins, Kenoi was showing aloha and hospitality to the family, which he considers directly connected to the Conference of Mayors. The sworn affidavit for this charge is the action in which the prosecution has charged as false sworn statement.
The Tommy Bahama purchase resulted in Kenoi being charged with Theft in the Third Degree.
Noted as “Financial & Insurance Conference Planning,” the defense argued this was for another relationship building expense.
“Violations of pCard policies is not a crime,” Eddins stated. “It was never about money for the mayor.” Eddins pointed out the donation of Kenoi’s $22,868 salary increase.
Following media requests to see county pCard spending records, all but one count was paid back by Kenoi.
The total amount alleged by the state is $4,129.31. Kenoi has reimbursed $3,929.31.
Prosecutor Pu‘u concluded with, “When you reimburse funds after you’ve been caught making illegitimate purchases—that’s not a mistake, that’s theft.”
Defense Attorney Eddins addressed the jury, saying, “Mayor Kenoi is not a thief. The county is not out any money.”
The defense argued it was, “Not his intent to deprive the county.” The defense emphasized that in Kenoi’s heart and mind, he was using, “his best judgment.”
Kenoi could face possible jail time and disbarment if not acquitted.
Kenoi is expected to take the stand at some time during the trial and closing arguments are expected at the end of the month.
Jury Selection for Kenoi Trial Gets Underway