The arrest on Thursday of Kauaʻi Council Member Arthur Brun has surprised and disappointed residents across the small island, while charges that he led a major drug ring selling methamphetamine has shaken the image of the tranquil, laid-back community.
Brun pleaded not guilty last week to 10 felony charges related to drug dealing. Under the county charter, he can hold on to his council seat for now, but if he's convicted of a felony, he will be forced out.
"I think it's pretty crazy that we have a County Council member that's arrested for running a large drug organization, and is not even being forced off the County Council," said Carl Weislander, a Kauaʻi taxi driver. "It's definitely been the talk of the island."
Other residents wondered why it took so long for authorities to act.
"It was kind of a secret, and then it was like everybody knew," said Gerald Nash, a local bartender. "How did we get this far? Somebody just had to turn a blind eye."
Law enforcement authorities have laid out a damning case against him. They charge that among the sources Brun used for drugs was a gang known as the United Samoan Organization (USO) that operates in and out of state prisons.
For some residents, the allegation made by prosecutors that Brun headed a drug ring was not only a big shock, but a violation of trust.
Joe Mauer, who works with at-risk youth, said the news really hit home for him.
"A lot of youth on the island have addictions to methamphetamine," he said. "His actions are having a direct impact on the community of youth that we serve. It kind of makes me angry, knowing that he was contributing to a major, major problem that a lot of our youth on the island face."
Mauer was especially upset that the drug arrests involved a county official.
"Kauaʻi has a big enough drug problem. And our council members are the people we elect to help curtail those things," he said.
The island's long-standing problems with methamphetamine and other drugs were detailed in a 2015-2020 community drug response plan. In a message introducing the plan, then-Kauaʻi Mayor Bernard Carvalho said the island's drug issues "continue to threaten the safety and well-being of our youth, families and community."
Brun's attorney Rustam Barbee declined to comment at length about the case Friday after Brun appeared with other defendants at an arraignment hearing in federal court on Oahu. Barbee said it was premature to discuss the details of the case.
U.S. Attorney Kenji Price didn't want to speculate on the repercussions of the charges on the community. But he said it is law enforcementʻs hope to prevent future criminal activity by bringing justice to the people.
A detention hearing is scheduled for Brun and 11 other individuals arrested in the sweep tomorrow afternoon in Honolulu.