Former state Legislator and City Council Member Rod Tam, who pled guilty to 26 counts in November 2010, will be sentenced a year later in November 2011.
Tam pled guilty to two counts of Theft in the Third Degree, 11 counts of Theft in the Fourth Degree, and 13 counts of Unsworn Falsification to Authorities, after the attorney general said that he submitted false claims for reimbursements of meals during fiscal years 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.
“Tam knowingly charged the City higher amounts than the actual receipts paid for the meals, and was therefore overpaid in reimbursements. The amounts of the individual overcharges described in the complaint ranged from $8.00 to $267.55 and were incurred at various restaurants in Honolulu,” the attorney general’s office said at the time.
The charges – and his frequent appearances in Zippy’s Restaurant on Vineyard Boulevard – earned Tam nicknames like the ‘hungry councilman.’ His sentencing has been delayed multiple times, but he could be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison and pay substantial fines when he goes to court next month.
Tam also was charged in a separate complaint on June 6, 2011, with eight counts of Campaign Spending Violations, all misdemeanor charges. The Department of the Attorney General alleged that from February of 2008 through January of 2009, Tam used his campaign funds for personal use.
But now a group calling itself “Friends of Rod Tam” have launched a web site to clear the former council member’s name and show is not guilty of wrong doing.
The letter said: “Historically, people’s government advocates are crucified by false accusations, death threats and intimidation. Rod Tam has experienced the death threats and is now experiencing accusations and intimidation by prosecutors by using the legal court system against him. Show your support of Rod Tam by being at his court trial on Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at the State of Hawaii’s District Court (1111 Alakea Street), 7th floor at 9:30 am.”
While Tam has his ardent supporters, including many loyal voters in his district, he alienated many throughout his years in the Hawaii legislature and city council.
When he was the Honolulu City Council Zoning, Tam, was well known for his eccentric statements, his diatribes often unrelated to the business at hand, his unabashed personal attacks on those he perceived as political enemies, his outbursts that some observers said made him seem more like a cartoon character than a politician, his frequent use of the term “if I may” and his unusual legislative proposals that brought him notoriety on a national scale.
Tam, who served in the state Senate before running for a council seat, rose to fame when at least one late night talk show made fun of his Senate bill that mandated “naps and snacks” for government workers and set aside government funding for the plan. He claimed the power naps and snacks would make them more productive and energetic (and had the scientific data to prove it) and he wanted taxpayers to foot the bill for both.
Though the “naps and snacks” bill made him the butt of many political jokes, Tam sparked outrage in the East Oahu community when he proposed using Kokohead Crater, a local cherished landmark housing endangered species, as the island’s new landfill.
In 2007, KITV broke a story about Tam’s eating binge. The council member used his council expense account and campaign spending fund to buy himself and friends more than 100 meals at Zippy’s on Vineyard Boulevard and other restaurants around town. He said he was just conducting city business. In 2010, KITV reported that Tam spent $50,000 over four years on meals with family, friends and constituents.
In an April 16, 2008, hearing at the city council, Tam, a strong proponent of steel on steel rail, claimed those who want HotLanes and more lanes for cars instead of rail are “selfish” – and he took great offense to those who want to put more cars on the road – something he said after admitting that he drove to work.
Tam launched into another tirade at an April 23, 2008, hearing, berated hopeful vendors who presented their various rail technologies calling them “vultures” and “carpet baggers.” He also slammed concerned citizens who testified that the rail would lower their property values, saying they should be happy that their property values would be lowered since that means they would pay lower property taxes. “What do you want … to sell your property and make a profit?” he asked them with distain.
Having already viciously berated almost everyone on Oahu at one point including home owners, property owners, car owners, those who support Hotlanes or other rail technologies over the rail system, and fellow council members, it wasn’t a big leap on May 13th when before a packed hearing room of University of Hawaii administrators and students he attacked illegal immigrant workers calling them “wetbacks”, a derogatory slang term for those of Mexican heritage.
The Hispanic community called for Tam’s removal as Zoning chair. Tam did issue a written apology Monday to the media, but he refused to apologize in person to the Hispanic community.
Tam ran for mayor in 2010, but declined several invitations to participate in mayoral debates.
Former Honolulu Prosecutor, Peter Carlisle, who was running against Tam for mayor, sent the investigation into Tam’s alleged wrongdoings to the state attorney general’s office to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Carlisle won that mayoral election and Tam has been out of office since.