The State VS Mayor Kenoi: Prosecution Rests
Due to insufficient evidence, State Circuit Court Judge Dexter D. Del Rosario dismissed three counts against Mayor Billy Kenoi on Monday, Oct. 24, during the State VS William P. Kenoi trial at the Hilo Circuit Courthouse.
From the eight charges against the mayor, the judge dismissed three misdemeanor counts for tampering with a government record.
The judge questioned the state on their evidence and ruled that there was no evidence that supported the claims that Mayor Kenoi was involved in the preparation of documents or stonewalling the investigation or to support the claim that he was part of a coverup.
Five counts against Kenoi remain; two second-degree theft charges, two counts of third-degree theft and one count of false swearing.
The false swearing charge is based on the affidavit from Kenoi on the Volcano House pCard charge, swearing that the charge was a legitimate county entertainment budget expense.
The prosecution team called Forensic Accountant James Cigan, their last witness, to the stand Monday, Oct. 24,
Cigan is an FBI forensic accountant but the defense argued and the judge agreed that the jury could be misled to think that the FBI was involved in the investigation rather than simply being called as expert witness for the prosecution.
Cigan went through the mayor’s and his wife’s personal bank accounts—seven accounts total—from 2011 to 2015.
The prosecution focused on all seven accounts, including lines of credit up to $10,000.
State Deputy Attorney General Michelle Pu‘u argued that in the early years, Kenoi was unable to use personal funds, so he chose to use county funds to pay for personal expenses. Showing nine transactions made during this time.
She then argued that when Kenoi’s accounts had the funds to pay for personal charges, he was accustomed to using the county’s card and continued to do so, as well as, taking longer than allowed to make repayments.
During the hour-long morning proceedings, Judge Del Rosario questioned Pu‘u and the fact that she was arguing both because he was broke he couldn’t pay, therefore he stole and intended to permanently deprive the county of the funds and argued that when he did have funds he used the pCard and chose not to pay, and therefore, it, too, was proof he was planning to permanently deprive Hawai‘i County of this money.
During cross-examination by the defense, Attorney Todd Eddins cross-examined the documents that Cigan created and the information he gathered and used to create charts.
The seven accounts were not all open at consecutive times and included two local personal accounts, one local joint account, two mainland personal accounts and two lines of credit; one to the mayor only for $10,000 and another to both the mayor and his wife for $1,500.
Eddins argued and showed that at no time during the pCard transactions did any of the Kenoi accounts show negative funds or inability to pay. At one point, the balance of the joint account was $46,209.37.
The defense walked through each transaction with Cigan, clarifying that the financial situation of the Kenoi family was far from what the prosecution argued.
The jury was also shown a video of Mayor Kenoi answering questions posed by journalists on O‘ahu.
Kenoi is heard taking full responsibility for bad judgment in using the county-issued card. Kenoi explained that he was under the impression that as long as he paid the charges back and didn’t pass it off to the taxpayers, he was ok. He admitted during the interview that he had made a mistake. Mayor Kenoi has paid back any and all charges to “remove ambiguity,” adding that, “I should have known better.”
The total amount alleged by the state is $4,129.31. Kenoi has reimbursed $3,929.31.
The defense argued that Kenoi is not a criminal; rather, he just made poor decisions.
The video showed Kenoi saying that he did not have a personal credit card. According to the prosecution, a Discover card in the mayor’s name was found on the mayor’s credit report. The defense argued this card was at home and used for online purchases; it is not a card the mayor carried and used for personal expenses.
Upon resting their case, the defense began calling their witnesses.
Among the defense team’s witnesses was Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., speaking about the Tahiti Fete, which pertains to the Kona Longs purchase and the $479.88 Hilton Baltimore charge at the U.S. Conference Mayors. Carvalho testified he was at both events with Kenoi and talked about the importance of these events and the nature of the encounters.
Tuesday, Oct. 25., the defense called Sam Choy, chef, restaurateur and television personality, to the stand.
Choy was asked about his relationship with Kenoi and the Hawaii Island Sam Choy Poke Contest which pertains to the $201.68 Kona Longs transaction.
Choy became visibly emotional recalling his experience with the Sam Choy Poke Contest on Hawaii Island with Mayor Kenoi.
Choy referred to Kenoi as a hardworking champion and discussed the importance of the volunteers in events like the Hawaii Island Sam Choy Poke Contest.
The prosecution asked Choy very few general questions before dismissing him from the stand.
The defense also called Ron Gonzales to the stand pertaining to the Big Island Film Festival charge to Sansei. Gonzales is the manager of Sansei and testified that Kenoi and about 10 to 12 people, including staff and volunteers from the film festival, patronized the restaurant.
He testified Kenoi’s tab opened at 8:30 p.m. and that on the receipt the waitress will add how many are there, not adding more people or changing numbers once the tab is opened. If the receipt says four people, he said, that only reflects how many people were there when the tab was opened.
Gonzales testified he recalls about a dozen people coming in to join the mayor.
“There was food,” said Gonzales. “I sent out steak and sushi rolls because I had the restaurant pay for it.”
The tip was lower than 15 to 20%, Gonzales said. Kenoi added over $150 in tip money because it was equivalent to what Gonzales sent out in comped food.
The prosecution clarified the meaning of the tip and dismissed the witness.
The court adjourned for the day and will resume Wednesday morning.
The defense will continue to present the rest of their witness list this week, which is expected to include the mayor.
Closing arguments and the conclusion of the trial are expected to occur on Oct. 31.