BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU, HAWAII – Former state Legislator and City Council Member Rod Tam will spend two days in prison at the Oahu Community Correctional Center and he must perform more than 300 hours of community service after pleading guilty to 34 misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors related to theft of taxpayer money and campaign spending violations, the Honorable Randal Shintani said in Honolulu District Court on Tuesday.
Tam, 58, won’t go to prison immediately, so that he can continue to qualify to collect state unemployment for the maximum number of weeks. He’s been unemployed since he left the Honolulu City Council because of term limits in January. He will spend December 31, 2011 and January 1, 2012, the first two days that he is off state unemployment, behind bars.
In addition, fines and fees will be waived for the most part because of Tam’s financial situation. And if he stays out of trouble, his criminal record will be wiped clean after a year, which will clear him to run for office again.
However, Tam’s sentence did not sit well with Hawaii State Deputy Attorney General Lori Wada. She could have asked for as much as 23 years in prison, but instead she requested that Shintani sentence Tam to prison for 6 months and order him to perform 1,000 hours of community service, but the judge ruling was much closer to what the defense wanted, which was no time in jail and a clean record after a year.
The judge may have been swayed by Tam’s supporters who filled the courtroom, including Tam’s sister, his parents, neighbors and a former staffer, to ask him for leniency.
Tam’s sister, Noreen Clemet, said that their family cannot afford to have Tam go to prison because he is caring for his 83 year old mother who has Alzheimer’s disease, and that Tam visits her at least three times a day to prepare her meals and help her eat and bathe.
Tam, who pled guilty to 26 counts in November 2010, admitted to two counts of Theft in the Third Degree, 11 counts of Theft in the Fourth Degree, and 13 counts of Unsworn Falsification to Authorities. The attorney general said that he submitted false claims for reimbursements of meals during fiscal years 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.
“Tam knowingly charged the City higher amounts than the actual receipts paid for the meals, and was therefore overpaid in reimbursements. The amounts of the individual overcharges described in the complaint ranged from $8.00 to $267.55 and were incurred at various restaurants in Honolulu,” Wada said in a written statement. The total was about $15,000.
Tam also was charged in a separate complaint on June 6, 2011, with eight counts of Campaign Spending Violations, all misdemeanor charges. The Department of the Attorney General alleged that from February of 2008 through January of 2009, Tam used his campaign funds for personal use and also did not file campaign spending reports and report cash donations as required.
Nelson Goo, Tam’s attorney, told the judge that Tam’s crimes were not as serious as some of the other public corruption cases he has been involved with. “What I’ve seen come through the courts in my thirty years of practicing, this is not that bad.”
Wada has a different take. She said she was disappointed with the Judge’s ruling. “I’m disappointed to say I don’t think that it’s a deterrent for any other politicians out there that would continue or want to do the same things. A violation of public trust is a violation of public trust no matter how you cut it.”