Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Musings: Gas Pains

Is our mayor really stealing gas?” I've had people ask.

I don't know, I tell them. It's my understanding that criminal intent is one of the elements required for successful prosecution. And Bernard Carvalho was reportedly doing what Bryan Baptiste, Maryanne Kusaka and possibly other mayors had done before him, which is to use a fuel card that was assigned to another county car to gas up his own vehicle.

Still, a May 1 report prepared by the Honolulu law firm of McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon LLP, in response to the county Auditor's request for investigative assistance, states:

Mayor Carvalho's use of County fuel demonstrates questionable fiscal policies that range from poor accounting to a possible breach of public trust. Further, the lack of legal authority for the Mayor to use County resources (fuel) for personal purposes, such as commuting to and from work, evidences a misappropriation of County property with resultant possible criminal liability. The failure to report fuel, a fringe benefit, as income, is also contrary to Federal Tax Code.

Some $5,830 was charged to the fuel card in 2009 and 2010, the period covered by the audit, according to the report. It's unclear whether the card was still being used in 2011 and 2012.

The report goes on to state that the matter was initially brought to the County Council “and did not receive warranted attention,” which led to the law firm being brought in to investigate. The law firm recommended the issue be referred to KPD and the Office of Prosecuting Attorney, as well as the state Attorney General. It was recommended the tax issue be brought to the attention of the county Finance Department, and if necessary, state tax office and IRS.

The law firm also suggested that county officials should develop a clear policy regarding the mayor's fuel usage. If such usage is permitted, the report states, then a budget line item should be created to fund the allowance.

KPD and the OPA, as I have previously reported, did prepare an arrest warrant for the mayor shortly before the election, but the Circuit Court judges refused to sign it. Hawaii News Now reported that the AG's office declined to prosecute. I do not know why, but I've been told that one or more elements in the case were missing, perhaps criminal intent.

The report indicates that the county budgets for those years did include a monthly auto allowance for the mayor. However, the fuel card that Bernard allegedly used was assigned to another vehicle in the Transportation Agency fleet and was charged as an expense to that department, rather than his own office.

Meanwhile, as I reported last Thursday, the grand jury returned an indictment against Human Resources Manager Janine Rapozo, who allegedly issued the fuel card to the mayor when she was running the Transportation Agency. She is charged with felony theft and 21 misdemeanor charges of falsifying records, for allegedly failing to reconcile the transactions under procedures used for other vehicles. Her bail is $500 and arraignment is set for Nov. 27. Her attorney, former county Prosecutor Craig DeCosta, is quoted in today's The Garden Island saying that he plans to file a motion to dismiss the charges.

So yes, it does seem that things aren't quite on the up and up with the mayor's fuel use. Unfortunately, the mess has been further muddied by Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho. The timing of her actions certainly gives the distracting appearance of a political vendetta, especially when we're talking about matters that took place in 2009 and 2010.

Stymied in her attempt to take down her desired prey, the mayor, Shay instead went after a weaker member of the herd: Janine. Btw, though I thought Janine was hired by the mayor, who did bring in her husband, Lenny Rapozo, to run county parks, she actually dates back to the Kusaka regime.

Someone left a comment saying that County Auditor Ernie Pasion had tried to move more quickly, but he was hindered for months by County Attorney Al Castillo, who reportedly said he had no authority to investigate. However, when I asked Ernie if this was true, he replied, “No Comments.” I'd also been told that Ernie was directed to pursue the fuel audit by Shay and Councilman Mel Rapozo in an attempt to burn the mayor.

Ernie said he can conduct audits at the request of the public, individual Council members and the full Council by resolution. However, he said, “All of our audits (past and in process) have been self-initiated so far.”

When I first broke the gas theft story back in July, I got this comment from county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka:

We have participated in an audit of the County's fuel use system, which included questions about the Mayor's fuel use. The administration has cooperated fully with this audit. As explained to the auditors, the Mayor has followed fuel use practices that date back at least to the 1980's. We have not been apprised of the current status of this inquiry or its referral to another agency.

It seems that Janine is being asked to fall on her sword, when the mayor could've 'fessed up when things were first brewing and said, OK, this has been the practice, but let's just really check it out and see if it's fully legit. Because even if it was a decades-old practice, I think most people of conscience would see at least a small red flag waving if we were issued a card assigned to another vehicle and told to gas up. Wouldn't the reasonable question be, why don't I have my own fuel card, especially if I've been given a gas allowance?

County officials don't seem to understand that even the appearance of impropriety can be politically deadly.

In the meantime, I am trying to learn what evidence was presented to the Grand Jury in securing the indictment against Janine. I've also been told that both Shay and her first deputy, Jake Delaplane, used county vehicles to commute to and from work, which the investigator's report indicated was a no-no for the mayor. It's unclear whether the OPA fuel use was also investigated, as I have not been able to get a copy of the auditor's report. I requested it as a public record, but Ernie would not release audit files or investigative reports because "criminal investigations are still in progress."

In any case, it sounds like it's time to for the county to be a little more careful about its vehicles and fuel. Because when people are already making over $100,000 a year — far more than the average taxpayer on this island —  I don't think it sits right with most voters to think they're also gassing up on the county dime, even if it's not technically a crime.


Anonymous said...

Any misuse of taxpayer $ should be illegal.

Anonymous said...

Joan, if you uncover any more dirt on the politics of Kauai, I will be forced to join the out-raged villagers with pitch forks and pikes ready to storm the county offices!

Dr Shibai

Anonymous said...

So Shaylene is busting this up and exposing it so what is the problem?

Iʻm becoming confused on who the culprit is sometimes.

It is the judges who are obstructing justice. They must be prosecuted if there is any discretion involved and also that they donʻt make the law, change the law or otherwise apply it to some and not to others because it is not politically tasteful.

These flunky judges need a serious and hard look. Didnʻt Lingle appoint some?

Anonymous said...

Your hate for Shay keeps you from being a good reporter. OPA got the investigator's report at the end of October. Castillo had been delaying it for months.

Anonymous said...

Carvalho and his appointee/crony Al Castillo are the next dirty politicians that need to be cleaned out.

Anonymous said...

OPA saw the audit way way before October. Don't lie.

One Nation One Law 50 said...

Kauai reminds me of the decades I spent living on an Indian reservation. Tribal politics remind me a lot of the politics on Kauai. The most powerful Indian families competed to control the tribal senate and thus tribal government and the monies that said governments controlled. We are talking sizable amounts of other peoples money. Once in control of the government as we have seen on Kauai there are many ways to siphon money and perks.

On the reservation I lived on one family has controlled the tribal government for most of the last 50 years. They have maintained that control by patronage, payola and when that has not worked with violence. I can tell you that a frozen turkey around the holidays (and elections) for some households was all it took to secure votes. This family has parlayed their control of their tribe to become one of the wealthiest families in the State in which they reside.

There is very little accountability on reservations. The Feds mainly look the other way and the Indian Civil RIghts act actually permits things that would be illegal off the reservation. By the way I can't imagine that if it comes into creation that the Akaka tribe would behave any differently.

Here on Kauai it seems we have a similar situation. He or she who controls Kauai government, or a part thereof, gets to enrich themselves and their clan at the general taxpayer's expense. You know the way they always have. To date the citizen voters have been complicit in this by voting the same folks or their cronies back into office. That needs to change.

Anonymous said...

If the Mayor was within the allocated gas budget so what? The card then becomes a mere method to effectuate the purpose.

Anonymous said...

The Mayor PUBLICLY deferred on using his allocated stipend (to offset expenses incurred ie; gas) to "help with Kauai's economy". He boasted his sacrifice loudly and proudly several times in his speeches. Then he procures and receives a credit card for fuel usage allocated to another county car. And staff is instructed not to use his name on any fuel records. Even if your attorney's spin you out of this mess.....you'll always be known as the lying cheapskate thieving Mayor Carvalho.

Joan Conrow said...

Anonymous 2:01, I need to step in here and correct you.

Mayors traditionally have gotten both a gas allowance and an auto allowance, which covers wear and tear when a personal vehicle is used for official business.

When Bernard took office he said he would forego his AUTO allowance because the economy was in such bad shape. He has not received an auto allowance through his time in office. It is separate from the gas issue.

Anonymous said...

Look at the budget line in mayors office. It shows $ 25,000 for lease 2nd year of 3 year lease. What is that about?

Anonymous said...

I believe that the person who wrote the 4:32 post is correct. There is a 99% chance the 2:01 post person works for the Prosecutor's Office, has a 50%chance of being related to her, and should really be posting resumes instead. And it is 100% a her, trust me.

Some taxpayers may not like the fact that our mayor uses county fuel stations to fuel his car, but doesn't he use his car for his work as Mayor? I personally see him at functions, community meetings and public events. He is always out in the community.
I do not see a problem with Mayor Carvalho using county fuel, especially since he does not receive an auto allowance. I doubt that any other Mayor in this State pays for gas when on county business.

By the way, the Police Chief and Fire Chief use county cars and county fuel and drives these cars to and from home and work. They are the highest paid workers in the county divisions. I don't think the Police Chief does undercover work or is out on patrol. What gives? It is just a nice benefit. These police cars are what I think they call unmarked cars, meaning you cannot tell it is a police car.

I have only heard the many rumors of the Prosecutors and Deputy Prosecutors personal use of county vehicles and county fuel and going to, may I dare, certain well established watering holes in Lihue. You know the one on Rice Street. The one by a certain bowling alley. But these are JUST rumors. No pictures, of course. But do I hear Go Pro video? Jakey and Shayky won't lie, just ask'm Auditor, just ask'm, PLEASE ask'm. But you need to HURRY IT UP, you know what I mean.

Good thing for them they are Prosecutors and don't have to fear being arrested by Police Chief Iseri-Perry (so sorry). Gang, what's the chances those two warrants would get signed by our judges. Odds anyone?

Anonymous said...

2:01pm responding here: I thank you Joan for the clarification of the Mayor deferring on his AUTO allowance. Unfortunately, what I heard during his inaugural speech alluded to so much more than his AUTO allowance. And by the way 8:22pm, no I am not employed by the County but did serve a years stint in the 80's as a professional within the County structure. I vacated that position after a year because the waste and abuse of tax payers money that I witnessed made my stomach turn. For 35+ years I have been in employed in the public sector where respect for earnings, hard work and integrity are rewarded, where the viability of your business counts on it. Not so much in our County Administration where power and the flagrant abuse of it supercedes common decency.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like the mayor violated federal tax laws.

Anonymous said...

The Mayor and his Cronies are puppets, we must focus on the Ring leaders that pull the strings or at least flip these rats.

Anonymous said...

A considerable amount of public trust and authority is bestowed upon a prosecutor in our system of justice. A prosecutor must not abuse the powers they were entrusted. A prosecutor must perform their duties with character and integrety. Lets pray there were no abuses of conduct or authority in this case.

Elaine Albertson said...

You either get an auto allowance, which is supposed to pay for any personal vehicle expense associated with your job, or you submit a monthly mileage report and are reimbursed on that basis. Pretty simple.

Getting an auto allowance AND then pumping fuel for your personal vehicle seems, also pretty simply, to be double dipping and indicates intent.

Anonymous said...

The incoming prosecutor, hand picked by the mayor's county attorney, will dismiss this his first week in office. And now that the mayor has cemented his power over the KPD, look for the chief to be "suspended" indefinitely.

Anonymous said...

Throw these rascals out in 2014. They're so intoxicated with power.

Anonymous said...

I saw all kinds of different privately owned vehicles going to the county refueling stations and putting gas at night. There's more people in this gas theft ring than what is being reported. Don't you guys try to full the public and say oh the mayor was only fueling his vehicles that's BS and all you crooks who stole gas knows it. The audit was only for a year so what about the other years?

Anonymous said...

I will be very interested to see how Kollar handles this when he officially takes office.

Anonymous said...

They got rid of Shay because she prosecuted the mayor's father. They didn't bring on Justin to prosecute the mayor. It won't happen.

Anonymous said...

Its a no-brainer for Kollar. Recuse OPA from the case 1st day and send it to A.G. Same thing Shayke should have done.

Anonymous said...

Iseri never prosecuted mayor's father. She publicized the incident and sent report to AG who concluded there was no crime to prosecute.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
The incoming prosecutor, hand picked by the mayor's county attorney, will dismiss this his first week in office. And now that the mayor has cemented his power over the KPD, look for the chief to be "suspended" indefinitely.

November 21, 2012 8:07 AM

Cringe factor.

Enough people paying close attention to how the Chief will be treated once Kollar is in office.

Bernard's stunt wrecking KPD has the outer island's attention. The Mayor has made a spectacle of himself.

The Mayor needs to leave Chief Perry alone to take care of police work, while Bernard gets back to minding his own business. It's just too much to believe.