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Former Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English sentenced to 40 months for taking bribes

Former Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English, left, arrives at a sentencing hearing in Honolulu on July 5, 2022.
Jason Ubay
Former Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English, left, arrives at a sentencing hearing in Honolulu on July 5, 2022.

HONOLULU — A former Hawaiʻi state senator was sentenced to 40 months in prison Tuesday for taking bribes in exchange for shaping legislation while in office.

Former Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English, 55, pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud in February, admitting he accepted bribes from a local business owner in exchange for shaping legislation that would benefit a company involved in publicly financed cesspool conversion projects.

Former state Rep. Ty Cullen also pleaded guilty to the same charge in a related case. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 20.

English “peddled the power and influence of his position as a Hawaii State Senator and Majority Leader to enrich himself and betray the trust bestowed upon him by those he was elected to serve,” U.S. prosecutors said in a sentencing memo urging the judge to send him to prison for three-and-a-half years — 42 months.

The sentence, a little more than three years, must send a “stern and lasting message” that corruption of elected officials will be punished, the memo said.

“I hope this serves as a message to everyone in government that there can be no tolerance for unethical conduct,” House Speaker Scott Saiki said in a statement issued after U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway sentenced English.

She also imposed a $100,000 fine and ordered that he be subjected to three years of supervision after he serves his time, according to English's attorney, Richard Sing, who declined to comment on the sentence.

English must surrender to begin serving his sentence on Aug. 16, Sing said.

In English's sentencing memo, Sing asked for a two-and-a-half-year sentence, saying that after the ex-lawmaker was arrested, he was open and honest about his interactions with the business owner, described in court documents only as “Person A.”

English began communicating with Person A about cesspools in 2019 and accepted cash and hotel rooms from Person A totaling about $18,000, the memo by Sing said.

Sing also wrote that English, who represented east Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi, “was a compassionate and dedicated advocate for the rural communities and individuals he represented," including Native Hawaiians.

English continues to suffer from long-haul COVID-19, Sing said, including sleep apnea, memory loss, lethargy and breathing problems.

He cited those ailments for resigning from the Senate last year and didn't mention he had been arrested a few months earlier for the corruption investigation.

But federal prosecutors wrote otherwise in their sentencing memo.

"English appeared on the Senate steps before a full media contingent, and blamed 'long Covid' as the reason he was leaving public service. In truth, English was leaving public service because he had been busted in a highly sensitive ongoing corruption investigation for taking bribes and betraying his oath of service to the people of Hawaii," U.S. prosecutors said in a sentencing memo.

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