She’s smart. Really smart. Her long political career carries with it a long trail of public records. It would be wrong to underestimate Colleen Hanabusa. She has not survived this long in the dog-eat-dog world of Hawaii inside politics without having a sixth sense for survival.
There is a lot to admire about this savvy legislator but she has made a lot of controversial decisions that have cost her credibility.
She has served in the State Senate as President and Majority Leader, and in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 1st District twice.
She was hand-picked by Sen. Dan Inouye to replace him after his death in 2012, but denied the appointment by then-Governor Neil Abercrombie, who appointed Brian Schatz. She challenged Schatz in the Democratic primary in the 2014 special election – and lost. She then ran to replace US Rep Mark Takai, who passed away in office, winning the election, but leaving her seat to run for governor of Hawaii. She lost to David Ige. And now, she is running for mayor.
Has she passed her political shelf life? Maybe. Or maybe she has too much baggage. Let’s take a close look.
She is a labor lawyer who represented Honolulu City Council Members Ann Kobayashi and Ikaika Anderson and former Council Member Donovan Dela Cruz in a surprise victory over an alleged ethics violation in 2015.
Kobayashi, who has been elevated since then to Vice Chair of the Council, was then Chair of the powerful Budget Committee; Anderson chaired Zoning and Planning; Dela Cruz was council chair for over three years until he was elected to the Hawaii State Senate in 2010.
The three were said to have received unreported gifts from people with business before the council. The dismissal of the ethics charges followed three days of closed hearings. The charges, if the ethics violations were upheld, would have made a series of rail votes on the council declared null and void.
And guess who was named to a seat on the HART Board by Mayor Kirk Caldwell? That’s right. Colleen Hanabusa.
(At the time, she was also representing the State Teachers’ Association in two State Ethics Commission allegations. She has been endorsed by them in this race.)
Well, anyhow, after the closed-door meetings, she filed a motion for summary judgement to ask that the ethics commission find no basis for the council members’ charges. All but one of them was dropped. That was determined to be outside the commission’s jurisdiction. Nothing happened. No public disclosure. It was over.
Though the charges were filed with over 1,000 pages of supporting documents, this savvy lawyer threw everything she could think of at them to make them go away and two of those council members are now chair (Anderson) and Vice Chair (Kobayashi). Her argument was that “prohibited gifts” to council members are not specifically articulated. “This is simply Complainant’s interpretation of the laws,” she said. She questioned the value of meals and drinks in the absence of itemized receipts. And she argued that gifts associated with campaigns were the jurisdiction of the State Campaign Spending Committee, not Ethics.
Essentially, with her arguments, she nullified any restrictions on gifts.
At the same time, the then-Ethics Commission Director and chief legal counsel Chuck Totto was under tremendous pressure from Mayor Caldwell not to do his job. Recall, Totto was also being pressured by Chief of Police Louis Kealoha and Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, who claimed that they were being harassed by Totto. He was the object of several lawsuits she filed against him for his investigation into the discrepancies between the two Kealohas’ financial disclosure reports. Rather than correct the differences, they sued.
Caldwell did not want the Bishop Estate or the Kealohas to be investigated.
According to Civil Beat, Caldwell “had been squeezing the agency’s budget, refusing to cooperate with ethics investigations and challenging the commission’s primary authority to pursue ethics complaints involving city agencies and employees.”
“Totto and the commission continued to aggressively investigate matters important to the Caldwell administration, pursuing cases against members of the Honolulu City Council for violating ethics laws by accepting thousands of dollars of gifts from lobbyists trying to influence votes on key issues, including the city’s controversial rail project.”
Caldwell’s Chief Corporation Counsel Donna Leong received a target letter from the Feds regarding both her $250,000 payout to ex-Chief Kealoha and the firing of Totto. She is still on paid leave. City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro is in the same boat and both remain on paid administrative leave.
Hanabusa has dismissed her time on the HART Board as being insignificant. She claims she had nothing to do with the scandals that have rocked the city coming out of HART. But she was appointed by Caldwell and elected chair in 2016. She was there when everything was going south. She says the HART Board had no power to do anything about it.
At that time, the HART Board handed out contracts before they had a complete EIR. Placement of the structures was rendered too close to utilities and they spent millions for utility relocation after the fact. Documents have gone missing, budgets have been ignored and no one has been held accountable. The FBI is currently investigating several HART associates.
While she was on the board Colbert Matsumoto was appointed to HART. Matsumoto is Chairman and President of Island Holdings and Chairman of the Board of Island Insurance Company.
Does that sound familiar? It should. Island Insurance – Keith Amemiya is the Senior Vice President of Island Holdings and Tyler Tokioka is the president of Island Insurance Foundation – Tyler is a huge supporter of Keith Amemiya for Mayor.
It would seem that Caldwell and crew are covering their bases by keeping their fingers in almost everyone’s pie.
In another incident that took place in 2012, two United Public Workers employees alleged that they were fired because they would not accede to a UPW mandate to phone bank, sign wave, contribute and canvass for Hanabusa. In other words, their jobs depended on going out there and sign waving, walking precincts and donating part of their hard-earned money to the candidate selected by their union, Colleen Hanabusa, not necessarily the candidate they supported. Do you get that? They had no first amendment rights to free speech because they were union members. They probably couldn’t have gotten the job if they did not join the union.
Three GOP commissioners found that the law did not prohibit employers from requiring participation; three Democratic FEC commissioners argued that the UPW did, in fact, coerce the employees to participate in political activities in violation of the Federal Campaign Act of 1971.
A Statement of Reasons memorandum said that the UPW was legally allowed to compel employees to support Colleen Hanabusa. Eventually, the UPW was fined $5,500 for a civil penalty, not for firing them, but for failure to report independent expenditures.
Matsumoto was also a player at Bishop Estate as the Court Master during the Broken Trust – which has eventually led to Micah Kane going from DHHL to Kamehameha Schools.
THE BISHOP ESTATE AND MARJORIE BRONSTER
So, when Hanabusa first took her seat in the State Senate in 1999, her first action was to pair with Larry Mehau to reject the appointment of Marjorie Bronster as Attorney General – the woman who took down the corrupt Bishop Estate Trustees in Broken Trust.
That vote was close – to reappoint Bronster – but she won. The opposition was said to be influenced by members of the Bishop Estate. At the time, there were questions regarding Hanabusa’s relationship to Trustee Henry Peters, whom she denied knowing well.
These allegations can be found in former Governor Ben Cayetano‘s book “Ben: A Memoir from Street Kid to Governor,” which received mixed reviews from David Shapiro. (The memoir is actually a point-in-time snapshot of the genesis of some of today’s most pressing issues in Hawaii and a historical record.)
According to Cayetano, Hanabusa was knee deep. KSBE trustee Peters and his mother, Hoaliku Drake, lived in her district and organized public demonstrations in opposition to Bronster’s reappointment. Hanabusa failed to block the reappointment of Bronster and, by the end of that year, the multi-billion dollar “Broken Trust” would see all five trustees gone.
Meanwhile, Hanabusa was close to Kapolei resort developer Jeff Stone, whose sister was married to Bishop Estate trustee Dickie Wong. Wong and Peters had been indicted by a Grand Jury convened by Bronster. Prior to the confirmation hearing, according to the attorney general’s investigation, Wong and Hanabusa met with Larry Mehau. She later told a reporter that she did not recall what was discussed.
Wong’s wife, Mari Stone Wong, and his brother-in-law Jeff Stone, pleaded not guilty to all charges relating to the estate’s sale of it’s fee interest in the 219-unit Kalele Kai condo project. Wong, a former state Senate president, Stone and Mari Stone Wong appeared in court before Circuit Court Judge Michael Town.
The deal, as reported in the Star Advertiser, “was a lease-to-fee conversion,” that “resulted in criminal theft charges against two of the most powerful members of the estate’s board – Chairman Wong and Trustee Peters,” and “contributed to the commercial bribery and conspiracy charges against a local estate partner, developer Jeffrey Stone.”
In the 1990s real estate slump, Kapalele couldn’t sell the units. They sold the entire leasehold interest to a partnership that included Stone’s Northwest Ltd and National Housing Corp for $36.5 million in 1995. The partnership, One Keahole Partners, acquired the fee interest for $21.9 million by acquiring Kapelele’s bank note.
The Bishop Estate rewrote the original terms of the Kapalele deal for One Keahole Partners by reducing the amount due on th loan, lowering the amount of collateral needed and setting the note’s interest rate at 2.9 percent. The state alleged that this gave Stone and his partner “millions of dollars in profits” at the expense of the trust’s interest.
In exchange, according to the attorney general, “Stone offered kickbacks worth more than $100,000 each to Peters and Wong when he bought their Makiki condos for inflated prices.”
TOWN, MOTTA and SOUZA
Town eventually dismissed the charges, saying that the grand jury’s decision was “tainted by testimony of Stone’s former attorney, Richard Frunzi, who had been convicted on unrelated federal money laundering charges.”
In 2009, Town was targeted by the FBI for investigation of possible corruption in 2004 in the racketeering and murder trial of Ethan Make Motta – the Pali shooting case.
To refresh, some Democrat legislators were trying to block Gov. Linda Lingle’s judicial nominee Ed Kubo to the First Circuit Court. The opposition was really coming from former State Sheriff John F. Souza III – Hanabusa’s then-fiance. Souza had business ties to two convicted felons; a former police officer and a Leeward Coast parolee named Jonnaven Monalim, cousin of crime figure Rodney Joseph Jr. convicted in the Pali golf course shooting. Monalim and Joseph were convicted of burglary and terroristic threatening in 1994. Souza sold Monalim a Makaha property. Monalim also served time for assaulting a Wai’anae teenager a few years later and was sentenced to 10 years. He was released two years later and “turned” FBI informant two years later – on his cousin, Ethan Malu Motta. Motta is currently serving a life sentence for the Pali killing of two people.
The other business associate is former police officer George “Buddy” DeRamos Jr., who was convicted for his role in the 1995 beating of prisoner Richard Doolin in the police station cellblock. DeRamos ran Souza’s trucking company when Souza became Sheriff Administrator and they were trucking things to the Ko Olina construction site.
KO OLINA 2
And then there is the Ko Olina tax credit. Then State Sen. Colleen Hanabusa introduced a bill for a $75 million tax credit program for Ko Olina resort developer Jeff Stone. The deal was tied to a proposed world class aquarium, which has never materialized.
Stone meets Souza while he is working on the construction site with Souza’s Pueo Trucking firm in 2001 at Kai Lani. At the time Stone was leasing office space at 1157 Fort Street Mall. He moves out in 2001. Souza leases commercial space at Stone’s Fort Street mall in January 2002. Hanabusa introduces the $75 million tax credit on Jan. 25, 2001. It passes in the legislature on May 7 and Cayetano vetos it on Jun. 25. July 2002 Hanabusa moves in to Fort Street Mall. On July 25, she sues Cayetano over the tax credit and she reintroduces the bill in Jan. 2003. She sues the city on behalf of the Ko Olina Community Associate on March 3.
On Mar. 14, Stone’s company, Hawaii Land Development, purchases six townhouses in Kai Lani, for $550, 564 per unit ($3.3 million). The tax credit passes May 2. Lingle signs it into law on May 29.
Stone sells a Kai Lani unit to Souza Jun. 23 for $569,000, with a mortgage loan from Stone’s Hawaii Land Development for $405,773. Stone sells another identical unit to Ralph Stone, his father, for $601,430 on Jul. 23, with a loan from Stone’s company One Keahole Partners, for $443,678. Two other units are sold to business partners on Apr. 16 for $542,600 and Apr. 18 for $540,600; the second units is resold on the same day for $630,600.
A few months later, Feb. 2, 2004, another of Stone’s units sells for $775,000, to an independent buyer.
In August, Lingle appoints Souza administrator of the State Sheriff Division.
“Souza originally said he had made a $50,000 cash down payment and financed the balance of the purchase price with the mortgage loan from Hawaii Land Development. But the difference between the purchase price and Souza’s mortgage is $163,227, not $50,000,” according to the Star Bulletin.
Colleen Hanabusa has a history of union support. She has a lot of experience. She has been in Washington, D.C. – and maybe that is where she should have remained.
With all the corruption currently swirling around HART and the Kealoha’s, it is hard to feel positive about Hanabusa bringing more baggage to Honolulu Hale.