BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN AND JIM DOOLEY – There was more drama today in the ongoing controversy over Kauai Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho, Jr.’s alleged criminal use of a county gasoline card.
Carvalho’s employee, Janine Rapozo, a former county transportation administrator who now is the County Human Resources Manager, was accused in mid-November with “promoting or facilitating” alleged gas thefts by Carvalho, but today she learned the charges against her have been dismissed.
Circuit Judge Randal Valenciano threw out the indictment, which included one count of theft and 22 counts of falsifying government records, because he said the grand jury proceedings were flawed.
The grand jury met November 15 and the indictment was issued the next day.
Valenciano said today the indictment was issued “erroneously” because not enough grand jurors supported it.
Fourteen grand jurors heard evidence in the case and 10 voted to support it, according to court records.
The Hawaii rules of penal procedure require that 75 per cent of grand jury members must vote to approve an indictment – meaning 11 votes were necessary, Valenciano ruled.
“No true bill should have been presented to the court,” Valenciano said, according to minutes of a court hearing today.
Valenciano dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning that it may be brought again to the grand jury.
But County Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, who sought the indictment, is about to lose her job. She was defeated in this month’s general election by Justin Kollar, an attorney in Carvalho’s administration, whose candidacy was supported by the mayor.
Carvalho issued a statement today saying he had every confidence in Rapozo, who he has worked with for 20 years, and always believed she would be cleared of the charges because “she is a person of the highest integrity and professionalism.”
“This administration handles issues and concerns by talking things out, airing our differences and finding solutions. We never had that chance in this instance,” said Carvalho.
“It is my hope that we will always vigorously seek the truth and find solutions before we maliciously accuse people of things in a way that could hurt them,” Carvalho continued.
“What happened to Janine Rapozo was uncalled for, it was unfair, and it was just plain wrong,” he said.
The criminal case was based on the mayor’s use of a county fuel card to gas up his personal vehicle.
The fuel card was assigned to a county-owned vehicle that Carvalho did not drive.
A county audit and independent investigators discovered the practice and said it violated county regulations and budget procedures.
The auditors noted that four or five previous mayors followed the same practice and said further investigation was needed to determine if criminal intent was involved.
The Police Department conducted its own investigation and issued an arrest warrant for Carvalho, but it was not served because two Kauai per-diem judges refused to sign the paperwork.
Carvalho said today he never intended to break any laws.
“I want to make it clear that there was no criminal intent by anyone involved and we have said that from the beginning. We were following past practices,” he said.
County Managing Director Gary Heu said the administration agrees with many finding of the audit and is committed to issues raised by the investigation.
“Use of county fuel, particularly in the case of the mayor and other elected officials, is currently based on long-standing practice that dates back more than two decades,” said Heu.
“We have acknowledged that these practices need to be reviewed, in some cases amended, and reduced to a clearly written policy – which we are in the process of doing as we speak.”
County Auditor Ernesto Pasion issued an interim public report of his findings in March but a much longer, 1,000- page report, was completed later and has not been made public.
Pasion also hired a Honolulu law firm and retired Honolulu police office to conduct an inependent investigation.
Complicating matters, Valenciano issued a controversial ruling in October that said the mayor, not the police commission, has authority to discipline the police chief.
The 7-member commission voted 4-2 (with one member absent) not to appeal that ruling, but there may be another vote.
The commission brought the lawsuit in June against Carvalho after he suspended Perry for several days while the county investigated complaints from a police department employee about alleged mistreatment by police executives.
Some speculated if the police chief pursued the case against the mayor, the mayor could retaliate by suspending him.