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Ex-Maui official, businessman plead guilty for bribes

Stewart Olani Stant
Audrey McAvoy/AP
Stewart Olani Stant walks into U.S. District Court in Honolulu, on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. Stant, a former Maui County official, and Milton Choy, the owner and manager of the wastewater company H2O Process Systems LLC, each pleaded guilty Monday for a scheme in which Choy paid Stant $2 million in bribes in exchange for more than $19 million in wastewater contracts. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

HONOLULU — A former Maui County official and the Honolulu businessman who paid him $2 million in bribes in exchange for more than $19 million in wastewater contracts each pleaded guilty Monday in one of the largest bribery cases ever prosecuted in Hawaiʻi.

Stewart Olani Stant, who was formerly a wastewater manager and the director of Maui’s Department of Environmental Management, and Milton Choy, the owner and manager of the wastewater company H2O Process Systems LLC, entered their pleas in separate hearings at U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

They are each scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 4 on one count of honest services wire fraud. In exchange for their pleas, prosecutors won't bring additional charges against them.

Stant is the latest public servant to admit to taking bribes from Choy.

Two former Democratic state lawmakers in February pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud for accepting bribes from Choy in exchange for influencing legislation.

Prosecutors said Choy deposited money into bank accounts owned by Stant during a six-year period starting in 2012. They said Choy also handed Stant cash and gave him gambling chips during trips to Las Vegas. Choy further paid for Stant's Las Vegas airfare and hotel rooms, they said.

In exchange, prosecutors said Stant directed at least 56 sole source contracts to H2O and Choy, worth $19.3 million.

Court documents say Stant managed the county's Wastewater Reclamation Division from at least October 2012 to December 2015. After that, he was the director of the county's Department of Environmental Management until December 2018.

Prosecutors say they will seek to have Stant forfeit the $2 million he obtained from Choy and have Choy forfeit some $15 million he, in turn, gained from the contracts.
Clare Connors, the U.S. attorney for Hawaiʻi, said last week the Stant case was one of the biggest bribery cases her office had ever investigated and prosecuted.

In July, former state Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English was sentenced to three years and four months in prison for taking bribes from Choy. Former state Rep. Ty Cullen, who served as vice chairperson of the House Finance Committee, is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 20.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino on Friday said the events leading to the charges occurred during the previous county administration. He said he has ordered an audit of all no-bid contracts awarded to Choy's companies.

“Whenever corruption undermines the public trust, those responsible must be investigated, prosecuted, and punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Victorino said in a statement.

Hawaiʻi this year enacted several reform bills that lawmakers passed to clean up politics after the allegations against English and Cullen emerged.

The new laws include one that prohibits holding fundraisers during the legislative session and another requiring certain nonprofit organizations operating as noncandidate committees to disclose the names of donors giving them more than $10,000.

The Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct, which is an independent panel created by the House of Representatives, is expected to submit recommendations in December for more reforms.

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