Thang Nguyen

BY JIM DOOLEY – Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro on Wednesday slammed state prison officials for saying they will soon consider furloughing a prison inmate sentenced in January to up to 10 years in prison.

“It is appalling that the corrections system is not holding criminals accountable for their crimes,” Kaneshiro said.

He was addressing the case of Thang Nguyen, 27, a ringleader of a sophisticated motorcycle theft ring who pleaded no contest last year to multiple counts of theft, racketeering and money laundering.

Thang Nguyen

Circuit Judge Colette Garibaldi sentenced Nguyen in January to serve a maximum of 10 years in prison for his crimes.

But the Hawaii Paroling Authority, which decides the minimum amount of prison time an inmate must serve before being eligible for parole, last month set Nguyen’s minimum at two years.

That in turn started the clock on Nguyen’s eligibility for a prison furlough program meant to help inmates nearing parole to reintegrate into society by taking daytime jobs outside prison, then returning to custody overnight.

The Department of Public Safety notified Kaneshiro’s office May 30 that if Nguyen meets “necessary requirements… he may be placed on furlough no sooner than 30 days after receipt of this letter.”

Kaneshiro called that “a mockery of the criminal justice system,” in a press conference today.

Keith Kaneshiro

Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said this afternoon that the department “is not furloughing Thang Nguyen at this time.”

Nguyen is being transferred from Halawa Correctional Center “to a minimum security facility where he will continue to be observed and get the programming that would allow him to eventually be considered for furlough,” Schwartz said.

“This is all part of the corrections process to reintegrate people back into their communities,” said Schwartz.

Nguyen’s defense lawyer, former deputy prosecutor Don Pacarro, said Nguyen hasn’t been in trouble with the law before, has a community college degree and wants to begin paying more than $200,000 owed in restitution to his victims.

“He wants to pay the restitution but he can’t pay it from prison,” said Pacarro, who did not represent Nguyen at trial but did argue his case at the Paroling Authority.

When that agency set Nguyen’s minimum prison term at two years, “it was like they were looking at him and saying, ‘this is a guy we can save,’” said Pacarro.

Nguyen “has a job lined up when he gets out, he had numerous letters of recommendation written for him, he has lots of family support,” Pacarro said.

But Kaneshiro said Nguyen’s early release from prison “an insult to the judge who felt that the 10-year prison term was an adequate sentence.”

Other less culpable co-defendants in the case were sentenced to 18-month jail sentences, said Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Van Marter.

“It is ironic to us that the most culpable defendant will serve less prison time than other defendants,” said Van Marter.

Pacarro, who left the prosecutor’s office when Kaneshiro was elected in 2010 and supports Kaneshiro political opponent Kevin Takata, said he suspects Kaneshiro held his press conference “because he’s running for re-election and he needs some air time.”

Takata is running against Kaneshiro in this year’s Honolulu Prosecutor election and Pacarro is chairman of the Takata campaign organization.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com