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Former lawmakers admit to taking bribes to steer legislation

Kalani English Ty Cullen.png
Hawaiʻi State Legislature
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J. Kalani English and Ty Cullen

Former state Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English and former state Rep. Ty Cullen admitted in court that they took bribes to steer legislation related to cesspools.

The two former Democrat lawmakers made their initial appearances in separate hearings in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

English admitted to accepting hotel rooms and cash worth nearly $19,000. Separately, Cullen accepted bribery payments of $23,000 within a six-month period in 2019 and 2020. As part of the plea agreement, each will forfeit assets equal to the value of their charges.

The bribes were handed out by someone referred to in court documents only as Person A, the owner and operator of a Hawaiʻi-based wastewater management company.

News reports have identified him as Milton Choy of H2O Water Systems, and he has not been charged with any crimes.

Each waived their right to an indictment – which means their cases will not go to a grand jury.

Under the plea agreement, the U.S. government will not pursue additional violations or charges related to bribery.

Both face a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison and 3 years under released supervision, and a fine of up to $250,000.

Both are released on probation and must surrender their passports. They can travel within the state but interisland travel must be approved by the court.

English served as a state senator representing Upcountry and East Maui, Molokaʻi, Lanaʻi and Kahoʻolawe from 2000 to 2021.

He retired last year, citing complications from Long COVID. At Tuesday’s hearing, English said he was still receiving two treatments a week due to the condition.

Cullen had been a state representative since 2011 representing Village Park, Royal Kunia, Waipahu, Makakilo and West Loch on Oʻahu. He was notably vice-chair of the House Committee on Finance. He resigned last week right after charges were filed.

Judge Susan Oki Mollway presided over each case. Sentencing is set for July 5.

In a statement, House Speaker Scott Saiki said: "The actions taken by former Senator Kalani English and former Representative Ty Cullen were shocking and deeply disturbing. They were criminal. Elected officials are entrusted by their constituents to represent their community's interests. The former legislators used their positions for their personal gain. Their actions have tainted any legislation they may have worked on, as well as the entire Legislature. I am committed to doing everything in my power as Speaker of the House of Representatives to rebuild integrity and trust in our legislative process."

The Hawaiʻi State Senate issued the following statement: “As a legislative body, we are dismayed and disappointed by the events that have transpired over the past week. The egregious actions of former Senator English and former Representative Cullen have severely undermined the Legislature’s credibility, destroyed public trust, and have casted a pall over the work that the Senate is trying to accomplish for the people of Hawaiʻi. Their actions are not reflective of the values and standards that we strive to uphold as public officials. The Senate will continue to take the necessary actions to increase transparency, combat corruption and expand ethics training to all members and staff. Let us be clear — we condemn the actions of former Senator English and former Representative Cullen and will work to ensure that individuals who abuse their positions of power are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Jason Ubay is the managing editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Send your story ideas to him at jubay@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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