BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU — Some Hawaii companies are taking advantage of visitors and elderly residents, but state officials are thwarting attempts to investigate, a supervisor with the state Department of Commerce says.
Aquilino “Aku” Idao, of the department’s Consumer Affairs’ office, has filed a complaint with two state Senate committee chairman.
Idao, who has worked in law enforcement for 25 years, said he is charged with pursuing criminal cases against companies and their owners who violate state law.
His supervisors have prevented him from pursuing criminal action no matter how egregious, he says.
Idao cites a case in which Shane’s Appliance, since 2008, has been targeted with 60 complaints from residents, mainly senior citizens, “for unfair and deceptive trade practices.” The company has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau.
Timothy Caminos, Director of Communications & Public Relations at the Better Business, confirmed Shane’s Appliance has had a pattern of complaints dating back to late 2010 that are also on record with that consumer watchdog agency.
“Complaints allege that the business takes payment for appliance repair upfront – generally 100 percent – and does not perform the work,” Caminos said.
In September of 2011 there was a Court action that required Shane’s Appliance to pay restitution.
“Leading up to and during the time of their court case the complaints stopped. Within a few months of the judgment being handed down complaints resumed describing the same pattern of complaints prior to the court action. Thirteen complaints have come in over the last three months,” Caminos said.
Idao began working for the Office of Consumer Protection in 2012 and began investigating the company, though his supervisors prevented him from pursuing criminal charges.
“I was counseled and written up by the executive director, and I was ordered to cease any criminal investigations. This action resulted in several more elderly complainants being victimized,” Idao said.
In another case, Idao found several file drawers of consumer complaints filed against a Hawaii business offering “time share vacations.”
The company, which went under several aliases, but primarily is known as Just Dreams LLC of Maui and Honolulu, had 145 filed complaints against them.
“There are hundreds of unreported victims and the losses have surpassed $1 million, as just $900,000 was identified as flowing from one business account in just one year,” he wrote to the Senate chairs.
The Better Business Bureau is also quite familiar with Just Dreams, parent company to Paradise Blue and Destination Paradise.
Both subsidiaries are no longer actively selling products, however it appears that one of them exists in a support function to the parent company, Caminos said.
“Pattern of complaints against company allege that consumers are shown a demo on how to obtain 5 star inexpensive vacations, but company fails to deliver results that are made during the presentation,” Caminos said.
“Consumers are given a cancelation period but the products do not arrive until after the cancelation period has passed. Unfortunately for consumers – they are normally signing a contract or agreement, which are generally binding so if a complaint is received the company usually has a signed agreement or contact from the consumer with the terms of the sale. This is one of those instances where consumers need to be really clear about what they are signing,” Caminos said.
Brent Suyama, a spokesman for the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, said the department would not disclose its policy regarding whether it allows its investigators to pursue criminal cases.
As to Idao’s case, Suyama said the department cannot comment on personnel matters, however he can confirm the matter is under review by the director’s office.
Idao has worked with several law enforcement agencies in various positions over the past two decades, including as a conservation enforcement officer for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, a supervisory investigator for the Honolulu city prosecutor’s office, a special investigator for the state Department of Human Services, a special investigator for the state attorney general’s office, a criminal investigator for the Hawaii County prosecutor, an investigator with Pinkerton Government Services in Manhattan and as a Hawaii County police officer.
In addition to informing key senators about his concerns, Idao has filed complaints with his union, the state’s labor relations board and with the state attorney general’s office.
Senate Public Safety Chair Will Espero, D-Ewa, one of the Senate recipients, said he would review Idao’s complaint and determine whether to take it to the Legislature.