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Former State Senate Majority Leader Kalani English Sentenced to Federal Prison

July 5, 2022, 7:34 PM HST
* Updated July 5, 7:37 PM
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A former state legislator has been sentenced to serve time in federal prison for wire fraud.

Senior U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway on Tuesday, July 5, sentenced 55-year-old Jamie Kalani English, former majority leader of the state Senate, to serve 40 months in federal prison and pay a fine of $100,000 for honest services wire fraud consisting of acceptance of multiple bribes in return for performing and agreeing to perform official legislative acts on behalf of a Hawai‘i businessperson.

In sentencing English, Mollway observed that an elected public official who had the power to affect legislation and was willing to accept a bribe was a “terrible combination,” according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Hawai‘i. The federal judge called it a “terrifying prospect” that accepting a bribe was so natural to him that he could receive it as if normal.

According to the press release, prosecutors argued in court that English was never reluctant about taking money in return for political and legislative favors. His behavior signaled that it was systematic and normal for him to accept, and indeed expect, financial benefits in return for legislative favors.

It was English who unknowingly initiated the FBI covert relationship with him by reaching out to the businessman, who is referred to as Person A in court documents, with a demand for hotel rooms in Las Vegas for English and some of his friends.

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The court also received information that on Feb. 24, 2020, English accepted $1,000 from Person A for assistance with cesspool legislation that could directly benefit the businessman’s company, telling Person A that he “should formulate what you would like to see” in the bill. On March 11, 2020, Person A met with English and offered him $10,000 in cash to kill the cesspool bill.

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English accepted the $10,000, stating “it’s easy to kill bills.” Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill did not advance.

In January 2021, English accepted another $5,000 from Person A in return for anticipated legislative assistance to the businessman. During a subsequent law enforcement traffic stop, English hid the $5,000 under the vehicle’s floor mat.

On his annual mandatory gift disclosure report, English failed to report any of the bribes and gifts Person A paid and gave him. As a part of his official gift disclosure submissions, English emailed this false and misleading disclosure form, thereby using interstate commerce.

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“As we stated when recommending a term of imprisonment, English, as a prominent leader in the state Senate, shoulders significant responsibility for any deficit of confidence in our public officials,” U.S. Attorney for the Hawai‘i District Clare Connors said in the press release. “He criminally abused the power of his official position to serve his personal interests rather than the people of Hawai‘i, which is misconduct the federal government will prosecute in order to hold elected officials accountable.”

“As a former Hawai‘i politician is sentenced today for public corruption, the taxpayers of Hawai‘i should know that the FBI continues to vigorously investigate those who misuse their official position for their own personal financial gain,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill said in the press release. “We will not stop in our pursuit to bring these types of cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution and ensure that the best interests of the people of Hawai‘i are served.”

The FBI conducted the investigation that resulted in the indictment. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ken Sorenson, Micah Smith and Michael Albanese handled the prosecution.

“The House of Representatives does not condone the actions taken by the former legislators,” Speaker of the state House Scott Saiki said in a statement via email. “I hope this serves as a message to everyone in government that there can be no tolerance for unethical conduct.”

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