BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU – When Honolulu Police Major Carlton Nishimura was first busted on corruption charges in 2011, he was earning $76,000 annually and had a pension of $380,000 that would increase substantially upon his retirement with the county contribution.
Under Hawaii law, Nishimura, 57, would be entitled to an additional 2.5 percent of his gross annual pay, multiplied by both his 31 years of service and the amount he made during his three highest-paid 12-month periods. The more overtime pay, the more Nishimura’s pension would increase.
But that wasn’t enough money for Nishimura, and he turned to the underworld to bring in more cash, a decision that led to his indictment on various federal charges between 2011 and 2012.
Today, in U.S. District Court, Nishimura agreed to a 12-page plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney and Internal Revenue Service in which he admitted to filing a false federal tax return for 2005. He also pleaded guilty to an obstruction of justice charge, admitting he informed the wife of a lead gang member of the United Samoan Organization of a federal task force investigating the gang, and then lied to FBI agents that he’d done so.
Several other charges were dismissed under the plea agreement.
The original three indictments filed between 2011 and 2012 claimed that between 2004 and 2006 as a police captain, Nishimura protected illegal gambling operations, and was extorting an individual involved with one of the gambling operations by using his position with the police department.
He was indicted on drug trafficking charges in November 2011 after agents found methamphetamine at his Waianae home along with three digital scales, ammunition and brass knuckles.
During a third indictment in 2012, Nishimura was charged with filing a false tax return in 2006 for the 2005 tax year, hiding nearly $10,000 in cash from the IRS.
Nishimura got further into trouble when he became romantically involved with Doni Mei Imose, wife of Jay K. Crisolo, one of the United Samoan Organization’s gang leaders.
Imose and Crisolo earlier pleaded guilty to being part of a crystal meth trafficking ring that imported as much as three pounds into the state.
Imose admitted to prosecutors that she had been romantically involved with Nishimura, but she also became the informant who ultimately helped federal agents indict Nishimura.
Though Nishimura was not supposed to have contact with Imose after he was indicted because she was a witness against him, Imose admitted to federal agents that they continued to see each other and communicate via disposable cell phones that Nishimura had purchased for them.
Before Nishimura was indicted in 2011, he was promoted, becoming one of 22 majors on the Honolulu police force.
He became even more prominent when he was named the Honolulu Police Department’s legislative liaison at the Hawaii State Capitol. Besides lobbying lawmakers, Nishimura also testified on pending legislation that affected Hawaii law enforcement.
In February 2011, during the middle of the 60-working day legislative session, federal agents arrested Nishimura. He’d been indicted for extortion, attempted witness tampering and making false statements to FBI agents.
Nishimura was the highest-ranking police officer charged with a federal felony offense.
For nearly 10 months after his indictment, Nishimura was put on paid leave and received full pay and continued to build his pension and accrue pension benefits from the state even though he had been stripped of his police powers. He was also entitled to a deferred compensation fund of $16,000.
A police department spokeswoman told HawaiiReporter.com in 2011 that job security protections were included in the department’s employment agreements, which limited the department’s ability to suspend or terminate officers accused of, but not convicted on, criminal charges.
After his second arrest in November 2011 for alleged drug trafficking, the police department put Nishimura on unpaid leave.
On Tuesday, during his change of plea hearing, Nishimura admitted to two of the charges against him.
Nishimura told Senior U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor that he filed a false income tax return, failing to report nearly $10,000 in cash.
He also told Gillmor that he lied to the FBI on March 8, 2010, when he denied telling Imose about the federal task force investigation into the United Samoan Organization, an organization that her husband, Crisolo, led.
The USO, as the gang is known, was started by Hawaii prisoners of Samoan decent who were sent to mainland prisons in the 1980s because of overcrowding in state incarceration facilities. As the gang members have been released over the last 30 years and moved back to Hawaii, many have become involved in criminal activity again, and the USO has become Hawaii’s largest and best established gang.
“Are you pleading guilty because you are guilty?” Gillmor asked Nishimura in court on Tuesday.
“Yes,” Nishimura said.
Nishimura could be sentenced for up to eight years in prison, $350,000 in fines and two years of supervised release.
Nishimura did not make any statements to the press Tuesday, and was released until sentencing, now scheduled for October 17, at 1:30 p.m. before Gillmor.
Investigative reporter Jim Dooley contributed to this report