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Former Honolulu prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro pleads not guilty to bribery charges

Keith Kaneshiro
Cathy Bussewitz/AP
/
AP
FILE - Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro talks to The Associated Press in Honolulu, on March 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Cathy Bussewitz, File)

HONOLULU — A U.S. grand jury has indicted Honolulu’s former top prosecutor and four others, alleging that employees of an engineering and architectural firm bribed Keith Kaneshiro with campaign donations in exchange for Kaneshiro’s prosecution of a former company employee.

Court documents unsealed on Friday include indictments of Kaneshiro, Mitsunaga & Associates, Inc. CEO Dennis Mitsunaga, 78, and three other employees of the firm — Aaron Shunichi Fujii, 64, Chad Michael McDonald, 50, and Terri Ann Otani, 66.

FBI agents arrested Kaneshiro on Friday morning. The 72-year-old self-surrendered to authorities just before 6 a.m. at his condo in East Honolulu, Hawaii News Now reported.

All five pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Honolulu on Friday. Each was released on $50,000 bail.

All five face one count of conspiracy to defraud the City and County of Honolulu and one count of conspiracy to intimidate the former employee to prevent her from exercising her rights by filing a civil rights lawsuit against the firm. The first count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, the second count 10 years.

The indictment alleges that Mitsunaga & Associates employees, along with an attorney listed as an unindicted co-conspirator, contributed more than $45,000 to Kaneshiro's re-election campaigns between October 2012 and October 2016.

They allegedly got family members, business partners, employees and contractors to donate as well to get around individual campaign contribution limits.

The former employee targeted with prosecution had been a project architect at Mitsunaga & Associates for 15 years when she was fired without explanation on the same day she expressed disagreement with claims the CEO made against her, court documents said.

Mitsunaga met with Kaneshiro and the prosecutor's executive assistant in October 2012, two months after the project architect filed a civil rights lawsuit against the firm.

Court documents said the CEO attempted to persuade Kaneshiro to prosecute the architect for theft for allegedly billing time for company work while she was actually working on unauthorized side jobs.

Kaneshiro's office prosecuted the architect, whom court documents identify only as L.J.M., but a judge dismissed the case in 2017 for lack of probable cause.

Circuit Court Judge Karen Nakasone said she ruled in part because of the one-sided nature of the investigation and because she found the prosecution was acting as little more than a recipient and conduit for information from Mitsunaga & Associates, the documents said.

Kaneshiro took a leave of absence as Honolulu's prosecuting attorney in March 2019 after he became a target of the federal investigation. He didn't run for re-election in 2020 and his term expired in January 2021.

Michael Wheat, a U.S. prosecutor from San Diego, is leading the case against the five defendants. He's the same prosecutor who won convictions of former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his former wife, Katherine Kealoha, who served as a deputy prosecutor under Kaneshiro.

They were convicted in a plot to frame a relative to keep him from revealing fraud that financed their extravagant lifestyle. Katherine Kealoha is serving a 13-year prison term while her ex-husband is serving seven years.

“Public officials must conduct their affairs honestly and with integrity. The Department of Justice will work to hold accountable anyone who betrays that duty through the influence of bribes," said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman in the Southern District of California in a statement.

The new chief of the Honolulu Police Department, Arthur "Joe" Logan, said Kaneshiro's arrest would not have a major impact on the police. Logan said the case illustrates the importance of accountability for public officials.

"I think any public official has to be accountable to the community they serve. And if they’ve done something that disrupts that, or interferes with their ability to perform their functions, then it’s not a setback to the Honolulu Police Department, we continue to work with the city prosecutor’s office and other federal and state agencies," Logan said. "So it’s not an impact to us. And so for us, we’ll continue to do our job, serve the community, be transparent, and be held accountable also for our actions."

Logan made his remarks at HPD headquarters on Friday during his first news conference since being sworn in as chief in a closed ceremony on Tuesday.

Read the indictment below or click here to open a new window.

The Associated Press reporter Audrey McAvoy contributed to this story.

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