BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN AND JIM DOOLEY – A warrant for the arrest of Kauai Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. on charges that he stole more than $5,000 of county gasoline in 2009 and 2010 has been submitted to two state judges on the Garden Isle who reportedly refused to sign the warrant until there is more evidence, Hawaii Reporter has learned.
A grand jury indictment returned this week against Kauai county official Janine Rapozo alleges that she “promoted or facilitated” Carvalho’s fuel thefts.
The Carvalho arrest warrant was prepared by the Kauai Police Department on the strength of 1,000 pages of evidence including a county audit and an independent investigation conducted by a well-respected local law firm and a former police officer.
According to the Kauai Prosecutor’s office, McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon LLP, a Honolulu-based law firm, conducted the independent investigation into the gas audit.
Independent investigator Kenny Chang, who is President and CEO of Kiamalu Consulting and Investigations Agency, and a 20-year veteran of the Honolulu Police Department, also was involved in the independent investigation.
The investigation of Carvalho began this summer and has been complicated by dramatic infighting between Carvalho, his administration, the prosecutor and the Kauai Police Department.
County prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho lost her bid for re-election this month to Justin Koller, the county attorney in Carvalho’s administration.
In addition, an October 30 court decision by Kauai Chief Judge Randal Valenciano gave the mayor the power to suspend the police chief indefinitely. That has added to the confusion over who on the island could investigate or prosecute the mayor without fear of retaliation, and raised questions about the independence of a new prosecutor with close personal ties to the mayor.
Although it was the worst-kept secret on Kauai, the investigation into the mayor officially became public this week after a Kauai Grand Jury indicted Rapozo, the County’s Human Resources Manager and former county Transportation Director, on November 14 on 1 count of theft and 22 counts of falsifying government documents related to Carvalho’s alleged misuse of county fuel.
The indictment alleges that Rapozo aided “in the planning and/or the commission of the offense of theft in the second degree by Bernard P. Carvalho Jr.” from Feb. 1, 1009 through Dec. 31, 1010.
Ironically, the mayor has a fuel allowance, but in 2008 when running for office and in 2009 when elected to office, Carvalho pledged publicly on at least three occasions not to use it.
What the mayor did instead, according to county sources, is take possession of a gas card assigned to a county Transportation agency vehicle. He then used it to fill his personal vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, with fuel. The Transportation Department then paid off Carvalho’s gas bill without ever assigning his name to the receipts, according to investigative reports.
The county auditor, who was examining $1.4 million of annual county gasoline purchases, discovered the misuse of the card when, as one source put it, “a whole lot of gas was unaccounted for.”
County staff reportedly confirmed the mayor was using the card, and disclosed to auditors that they were told not to note the mayor’s name on any county documents.
Even getting the investigation into the auditor’s report was a challenge. But when the independent investigation was finally authorized 6 months after it was first requested, investigators met with an unfriendly administration.
When investigators attempted to interview the mayor about the gas card, sources said, Carvalho refused to speak to them, citing his right under the 5th Amendment not to incriminate himself. Rapozo, however, did speak to investigators.
Rapozo, who issued the county gas card to Carvalho, is married to Carvalho’s campaign manager, Lenny Rapozo, who is now County Parks Director.
The mayor did not respond to a request for comment from Hawaii Reporter, but his office referred calls to well- known Oahu defense attorney Eric Seitz. Seitz was not available for comment this afternoon.
Kauai County Managing Director Gary Heu issued a statement yesterday that omitted mention of Carvalho but defended Rapozo, saying the county administration supports her “100 percent.”
Heu maintained the county has seen “no evidence of wrongdoing” and Rapozo has performed 18 years of exemplary service on behalf of the County and the people of Kauai.
The dispute has played like a soap opera set within the closely-knit island community.
Consequences for pursuing a case against the mayor could be severe, sources said.
The prosecutor already lost her re-election bid to the mayor’s candidate.
Police Chief Darryl Perry, who holds the unsigned arrest warrant for Carvalho, could potentially be disciplined or even suspended indefinitely by the mayor if he pursues the case.
Perry does not seem to have strong backing from his police commission. The 7-member commission this week decided by a vote of 4-2 (and one member absent) not to pursue an appeal of Valenciano’s October 30 ruling that said the mayor has authority over the police chief.
Perry sought a ruling from the court after the mayor, last February, suspended Perry for several days while the county investigated complaints from a police department employee about alleged mistreatment by police higher-ups.
Police chiefs in all four counties reportedly are backing Perry’s appeal, arguing that there should be a firewall between mayors and police chiefs. Otherwise, as one law enforcement officer said, “it is as if the mayor is the police chief.”
The decision by the police commission not to appeal was unexpected since an attorney had offered to take the case pro-bono, making the potentially high cost of an appeal a non-issue.