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Posted on: Monday, January 22, 2001

Ige charges cast pall over political system

The latest charges leveled against former state Sen. Marshall Ige — if true — are a sad commentary on the political climate in which he operated.

Ige, already facing misdemeanor campaign finance charges, now has been hit with felony theft, tax and money-laundering charges. They are not directly related to Ige’s public work as a legislator.

According to documents filed by the attorney general, the charges involve two separate events.

The first allegation is that Ige asked for $30,000 from a California couple in exchange for his efforts to get a criminal conviction against their daughter expunged.

The second involved Ige’s threat to evict a farmer from some land Ige has leased in Punaluu on the Windward Coast unless he was paid $7,000.

During trial, Ige may be able to provide explanations for his offer to help with the expungement effort (which was unsuccessful) and his dealings with his tenant.

He may also be able to explain why the $30,000 was passed through the accounts of a Kaneohe businessman before it finally wound up in an account controlled by Ige’s wife. The businessman told investigators he held the money as a favor because he believed Ige helped block a bill that would have harmed his Kaneohe Bay tour business.

There’s a picture in this that — if true — is very ugly. And it is ugly whether Ige is found guilty of the specific crimes charged against him or not.

That picture is of money flowing to a sitting state senator because of the power (or perceived power) he has to do favors for people or to cause them harm.

There is a process for expunging criminal records in Hawaii. But it doesn’t require the involvement, formal or informal, of a legislator to make it work.

It is possible to hurt, or help, business by passing or killing legislation. But the payback for this is supposed to be political support, not a side cash deal.

Whether Ige is convicted or acquitted, these charges leave a nasty cloud hanging over the political process here that will take a great deal of effort to dispel.

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