Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Judge postpones Mirikitani sentencing

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer

A federal judge yesterday said it appeared that former Honolulu City Council member Andy Mirikitani lied during his corruption trial and was the ringleader of a bribery scheme, two factors which could mean a longer prison term when he is sentenced tomorrow.

Sentencing of former Councilman Andy Mirikitani and Sharron Bynum has been put off until tomorrow. They got married on Friday.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

"He clearly gave false testimony," U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor said. "He lied about the core issues."

Gillmor delayed Mirikitani's sentencing yesterday afternoon after a presentence report by court officials contained conflicting views about whether his sentence should be increased significantly. The judge imposed the two-day postponement to allow attorneys on both sides to present arguments in the case.

Mirikitani, a 45-year-old attorney, was convicted July 3 of theft, bribery, extortion, wire fraud and witness tampering for offering two former city aides bonuses if they kicked back a share of the money to him.

His co-defendant, Sharron Bynum, whom Mirikitani married Friday, was convicted of theft and extortion. Her sentencing was also postponed until tomorrow.

Mirikitani is expected to serve time in prison, but federal law calls for a longer sentence for defendants who testify falsely at trial and who head a criminal scheme.

Gillmor described Mirikitani as "the dominant member in the scheme."

Mirikitani's attorney, John Edmunds, said the two conflicting memos filed in court yesterday brought up issues that merited further legal discussion. "They wanted to take off three years," he said.

Edmunds is arguing that Mirikitani be allowed to remain free pending appeal. Edmunds also contended that Mirikitani should get a shorter sentence because of his service to the community as a public official.

Mirikitani, who represented Manoa, McCully, Mo'ili'ili, Makiki and Ala Moana, served as a council member from 1991 until he resigned Saturday.

Edmunds said his client showed "extraordinary political efforts" in championing the rights of women, working to close massage parlors and trying to help his community. "He has met a tragic political end," Edmunds said.

"This is not a man, an elected official, who set off on a corrupt course," Edmunds said.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Seabright said that judging Mirikitani by such standards would call for a lighter sentence for every political figure convicted of a crime.

Seabright said it's not appropriate to compare Mirikitani's accomplishments against drug dealers and robbers who more frequently appear in federal court than politicians.

"We think he should be compared against other politicians," the prosecutor said.

Both Mirikitani and Bynum told The Advertiser yesterday that he had already designated her as his pension beneficiary before their wedding on Friday. Mirikitani said that meant the timing of their wedding, on the day before he retired as a city official, did not make a difference. "It doesn't matter," he said.

Bynum, however, will now be entitled to free lifetime medical and dental benefits that are available only to spouses and dependent children.

Bynum said the reason the two waited until Friday to marry was that she had been in poor health since a heart attack in February.

"Our intention was to have a big wedding," Bynum said. "All of our money has been spent on this trial."

The Rev. Ron Ching of Central Union Church said he performed the wedding ceremony for the two at Wai'alae Beach Park after having to postpone the ceremony because of Bynum's health. Bynum said they "grabbed a couple of passer-bys" to witness their wedding ceremony.

"I married him because he has stood by me through all my health problems," Bynum said. "He stood by me 1,000 percent."

Officials with the state pension and health fund cannot legally discuss specific cases but can describe how the system works. Administrator Bert Nishihara of the Hawai'i Public Employees Health Fund said free lifetime medical, dental, prescription drug and vision benefits are available to spouses and dependent children only.

Nishihara provided a table that indicated the range of total premiums paid for someone who retired after 10 years of service but was under 65 and had no dependent children. The table indicates that the cost for a retiree such as Mirikitani would range from $285 to $301 a month, but would increase to $811 to $818 to cover him and his wife.

David Shimabukuro, administrator of the state Employees' Retirement System, said being convicted of a crime would have no effect on a person collecting his pension. "How the person left does not have an impact on their pension," Shimabukuro said. "By law, we need to pay it."

On the basis of the state's formula, Mirikitani would likely be eligible for a pension of more than $1,000 a month. But a person who designates a beneficiary would receive smaller pension checks than someone who chooses other retirement formulas.

Shimabukuro said retirees may designate people other than their spouses and some name their parents or siblings. "They can name anybody," he said.

Bynum's attorney, assistant federal public defender William Domingo, argued that she should have her sentence reduced because of her limited role in the case and because of ill health. Domingo said that Bynum could receive a sentence of between 27 and 33 months, but should not go to prison because it could jeopardize her health.

Domingo instead asked that she be sentenced to "probation and with any jail time to be served in a home detention situation."

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.