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Ex-Honolulu planning official pleads guilty in bribery case

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HONOLULU — A former Honolulu building plans examiner pleaded guilty Monday to all charges in an indictment accusing him of participating in a scheme to take bribes in exchange for expediting projects.

Wayne Inouye pleaded guilty to six counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of making a false statement. He did not have an agreement with U.S. prosecutors about what sentence they will seek.

Prosecutors say Inouye took at least $89,000 in bribes from an architect and several thousand dollars from others to approve and expedite their projects ahead of others.

Inouye lied to an FBI agent and federal prosecutor when he told them an architect loaned him $100,000, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Nolan said.

When asked by the judge at Monday's hearing to describe what he did, Inouye didn't use the words bribe or bribery. He said an architect offered to compensate him to review plans before submitting them so that he could ensure they were code-compliant.

“These plans would have been approved anyway,” he said, but added that they were expedited.

He also said he received compensation from a signage contractor to help them submit their application to the department.

He said he made a misleading statement to an FBI agent and a federal prosecutor when he told them the compensation was a loan.

Honest services wire fraud carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, while the false statement charge has a maximum sentence of up to five years.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Rom Trader told Inouye that pleading guilty without a plea agreement means “you are taking your chances" with the possibility of getting a maximum sentence. A judge is scheduled to sentence Inouye in March.

“Are you OK with taking that chance,” Trader asked Inouye, who replied affirmatively.

Inouye, 65, was retired when he was charged last year, along with four other current and former employees of the department. Prosecutors said they took thousands of dollars in bribes from architects, contractors and others in exchange for expediting or approving projects.

Also indicted was architect William Wong, who was accused of paying bribes. He pleaded guilty last year.

Former building plans examiner Kanani Padeken pleaded guilty last year. Jason Dadez, a former building planner, and Jennie Javonillo, a former building plans examiner, pleaded guilty earlier this year.

Inouye is the only one who pleaded guilty without a plea agreement. After the change-of-plea hearing, Inouye's attorney Thomas Otake declined to say why his client pleaded guilty without a plea deal in place.

“At the end of the day, Mr. Inouye wanted to accept responsibility and decided to do so without a plea agreement,” Otake said.

Also charged was Jocelyn Godoy, who is on leave with pay from the data access and imaging branch in the department. She has pleaded not guilty to three counts of honest services wire fraud and is scheduled to go to trial next year.

“We condemn the illegal actions by this former employee and the others who were involved in similar criminal activity,” Dawn Takeuchi Apuna, acting department director, said in a statement after Inouye's guilty plea. “There is no place in the Department of Planning and Permitting, or any city agency, for this type of behavior.”

She said officials are taking steps to “ensure that criminal behavior like this does not happen again,” including standardizing operating procedures to weed out potential improper practices, removing the backlog of building permit applications to lessen the opportunity for abuse, and internal investigations of suspicious behavior.

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