BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Hawaii Reporter has learned the state attorney general and James Pflueger’s attorneys are finalizing a plea deal that would allow the 86-year-old automobile dealer to have his company take the brunt of charges filed against him over the breach of his Ka Loko Dam.
Attorneys for both sides are scheduled to meet March 14, exactly seven years to the day that Pflueger’s 30-acre Ka Loko Dam breached, killing seven people and causing millions of dollars in property damage.
The powerful waves that reached more than 40 feet high in the early morning hours of March 14, 2006, swept Aurora Solveig Fehring, her husband Alan Gareth Dingwall, and their 2-year-old son Rowan Grey Makana Fehring-Dingwall, to their death.
The roaring, raging wall of water also killed Christina Michelle McNees, who was 7 months pregnant, and Daniel Jay Arroyo, her fiancé, who she was set to marry just hours later; Timothy Wendell Noonan, Jr., a friend who Aurora invited to stay with them after he lost his home; and Wayne Carl Rotstein, the Fehring’s caretaker and business partner.
Pflueger was indicted on November 2008 on seven counts of manslaughter and one count of reckless endangerment in the first degree by a secret grand jury convened by then State Attorney General Mark Bennett.
Witnesses testified Pflueger knowingly covered the dam’s main safety feature, its spillway, when without permits, he illegally flattened a hillside and placed dirt around the reservoir to prepare for home construction. Pflueger blamed the state and county for the breach.
Under a change of plea deal that still must be finalized, Pflueger would reportedly plead guilty to a felony reckless endangerment count, while his company would plead guilty to the seven counts of manslaughter.
Anne Lopez, spokesperson for the attorney general, said: “We have been in negotiations, but we cannot discuss the details.”
Pflueger is also facing criminal charges in U.S. District Court for tax evasion. His nearly two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi just concluded and her ruling on two counts is expected March 20 at 9 a.m.
Pflueger, who was indicted in 2010, is accused of using the dealership, which he sold to his son Charles Alan Pflueger in 2001, to pay personal expenses. Pflueger also is accused of hiding nearly $15 million from the sale of a property in California, called the Hacienda Corporate Plaza, and sending the proceeds to a bank account located in Switzerland. Federal prosecutors claimed Pflueger and his accountant, Dennis Duban, manipulated the property transaction to avoid paying $4.5 million in taxes and hid the money overseas.
Duban testified Pflueger knew he would need to “generate significant funds” for his defense including lawyers, experts and engineers – and he would also potentially need millions of dollars more to pay a legal settlement. Pflueger was personally worth more than $71 million in 2007 (not including the $15 million the Swiss bank account), however most of the money was tied up in land investments.
Duban also testified that Pflueger told him he wanted to “protect his assets” and shield his money from the families suing him over the Ka Loko Dam breach.
Pflueger has maintained his innocence and blamed all wrongdoing on his accountant and the dealership staff.
Pflueger’s manslaughter trial has been delayed several times since 2008 because of challenges his extensive legal team has made in court. His federal tax fraud trial was also delayed on multiple occasions.
If Pflueger does change his plea on March 14, he would learn his fate on the tax fraud case just eight days later.
Those familiar with the case expect Pflueger would request no prison time, citing health and age issues.