Ex-Mirikitani aide testifies about alleged kickback deal
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer
A second former employee of City Councilman Andy Mirikitani took the witness stand as a prosecution witness yesterday and testified that Mirikitani gave him a bonus in exchange for a kickback.
Former aide Jonn Serikawa told a federal jury that the councilman gave him a bonus of more than $9,600, then demanded more than $2,400 in cash.
Mirikitani, a 45-year-old attorney, is on trial in federal court on charges of theft, bribery, extortion, wire fraud and witness tampering. His girlfriend, Sharron Bynum, stands accused of aiding and abetting him in the theft, extortion and bribery cases.
Federal prosecutors describe Mirikitani as the highest-ranking elected official in Hawai'i to be indicted on federal felony charges while in office.
Mirikitani is accused of giving bonuses to Serikawa and Cindy McMillan, a former chief aide to Mirikitani, on condition that they kick back money to him or his campaign fund. McMillan left the witness stand yesterday after testifying for the prosecution.
Also testifying yesterday was City Council administrative official Clayton Wong, who told the jury that in his nine years with the council, Serikawa's bonus was the only one exceeding the wages earned by the recipient. According to prosecutors, Serikawa worked part-time and earned only about $5,900 before being offered the bonus.
Serikawa testified yesterday that Mirikitani asked him to step out of City Hall in June of 1999 so they could talk at a bench in front of the Hawai'i State Library across Punchbowl Street from the council's offices.
At that meeting, Serikawa said, Mirikitani told him "he had a proposition for me that would be a win-win situation for both of us."
Serikawa testified that Mirikitani told him that he would give him an $11,000 bonus. Serikawa said the deal was that after he paid taxes, he and Mirikitani would split equally what was left.
"I asked him if we were doing anything wrong," Serikawa said. "He said, 'No, everybody does it.' "
Serikawa testified that he told Mirikitani he would go along. Serikawa said Mirikitani told him that he wanted the money in cash, instead of a check to his campaign, as he requested of McMillan.
Eventually, Serikawa testified that he received a bonus of more than $9,600 and that he ended up paying Mirikitani a little more than $2,400 in cash and another $200 toward a Neighbor Island trip that Mirikitani and Bynum took.
When Serikawa testified, Mirikitani frequently frowned and shook his head.
Serikawa acknowledged that he had been convicted of promotion of dangerous drugs, for selling crystal methamphetamine in 1994.
"I had a very bad drug problem," Serikawa said, but he said he stopped using the drug by 1997.
The trial is recessed until Tuesday, when the lawyers are expected to argue over defense objections to portions of a tape recoding of a conversation between Mirikitani and Serikawa.
Serikawa was wearing a recording device provided by the FBI when he met Mirikitani at the Tantalus lookout.
Mirikitani repeatedly refused to discuss matters out loud, instead insisting on writing down his side of the conversation in a tablet and hushing Serikawa when he would respond audibly, according to the prosecution.
First elected in 1990, Mirikitani represents the urban communities of Manoa, Makiki, McCully, Tantalus, Pawa'a and Kewalo.