Hawaii automobile mogul Jimmy Pflueger, the sole defendant in one of Hawaii’s most notorious criminal cases, will have his sentencing delayed.
Pflueger, who pled no contest in July 2013 to reckless endangerment for causing the deaths of seven people on March 14, 2006, when his Ka Loko dam breached, was scheduled to appear in Kauai’s Fifth Circuit Court on January 23, 2014.
The 87-year old founder of Pflueger Auto was set to plead no contest to a reckless endangerment in the first degree charge, after the Ka Loko dam that he owns breached on March 14, 2006, killing 7 people.
Pflueger also was charged with 7 counts of manslaughter, but through a plea negotiation with the attorney general, his company, Pacific 808 Properties LP, will take responsibility for the deaths and pay a fine of $50,000 for each person’s death.
However, Pflueger’s attorneys informed the deputy attorney general prosecuting the case that Pflueger is too sick to travel due to a serious medical condition.
Pflueger, who according to federal court records had assets of $71 million before the breach, has been able to use his power, wealth, influence and political connections to delay his criminal trial for years through multiple appeals since Pflueger was indicted in November 2008. Pflueger also used illness at least once before as a reason not to appear in court.
The state attorney general said Pflueger intentionally covered the dam’s main safety feature, its spillway, without proper permits or authorization, which led to the dam breach.
Bruce and Cyndee Fehring lost their daughter Aurora Solveig Fehring, son-in-law Alan Gareth Dingwall, and 2-year-old grandson, Rowan Grey Makana Fehring-Dingwall, before sunup on that Tuesday morning in 2006, when the raging water filled with debris smashed into the their 6-acre property.
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, were also staying on the Fehrings’ property and were killed.
Pflueger fought the charges for more than 6 years, reportedly spending more than $40 million on his defense and other related litigation.
Should the sentencing ever go forward as scheduled, this will be Pflueger’s second conviction.
In November 2001, Amy and Rick Marvin and their children narrowly escaped from their home in Pilaa, which was surrounded with mud during a mud slide caused by James Pflueger’s illegal grading
In 2006, just 4 days before the Ka Loko Dam breach, Pflueger pleaded guilty to 10 felony counts related to his illegal grading at Pilaa, a 393-acre property he owns near Ka Loko.
The illegal grading, which left 100 acres of red dirt exposed, caused a catastrophic mudslide on November 26, 2001, destroying a rare coral reef and polluting a pristine bay at Pilaa.
A heavy rainstorm that night in November 2001 pushed 1,000 tons of mud and debris into the once sparkling ocean, causing more than $100 million damage to the 20-acres of the reef that was awaiting the same federal protection that Oahu’s Hanauma Bay enjoys.
The Marvin family, who lived on the edge of Pilaa Bay, was able to flee the mudslide in time to escape injury, but their homes and cars were swamped in mud.
After a joint investigation by the Kauai County, state Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pflueger was charged with 13 felony counts and pled guilty to 10 counts in 2006. He was fined $12 million in restitution and fees.
The EPA portion of the fine – $7.5 million – was the largest penalty against an individual polluter in U.S. history.
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources also fined Pflueger’s company Pilaa 400 LLC, the listed property owner, $4 million for the impact Pflueger’s illegal grading had on conservation land.
Then State Attorney General Mark Bennett headed Pflueger’s prosecution in both the Pilaa pollution case and the Ka Loko manslaughter case, but was replaced as is customary when a new governor was elected in 2010. It was the new attorney general, David Louie, who offered Pflueger a deal that some say let him walk away without consequences in the Ka Loko Dam criminal case.
“I wish Mr. Pflueger no ill will. I know he is going to die and meet his maker and get his ‘come up,’ said Bruce Fehring in a July 2013 interview with Hawaii Reporter after the plea deal was arranged. “But this is about more than that. This is a signal to all wealthy and powerful people here in Hawaii that they can do what ever they want and buy their way out of it; that the wealthy and powerful in Hawaii can escape prison, even if prison is warranted, and that they are not going to be held to the same standard as the average guy on the street.”
On Monday, Fehring released another statement about the trial delay. “I am uncertain what may, or may not, be wrong with Jimmy Pflueger’s health, but, speaking on behalf of myself and my family, although we remain traumatized and broken hearted, we planned on being at the scheduled sentencing hearing. I doubt the problem is with Mr. Pflueger’s guts, as it appears he is lacking entirely in that department. Otherwise, he would not be hiding for all these years behind his lawyers and doctors, and would have, long ago, owned up to what he did to the Ka Loko Dam emergency spillway.”
Civil matters in both the Pilaa case and the Ka Loko case are still pending.