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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Taped Mirikitani told employee to deny wrongdoing

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer

A federal courtroom yesterday heard an FBI tape recording of City Councilman Andy Mirikitani repeatedly urging a former employee to deny any wrongdoing, scribbling written responses instead of answering out loud and often swearing as he discussed accusations that have brought him to trial.

Mirikitani, a 45-year-old attorney, is on trial on charges of theft, bribery, extortion, wire fraud and witness tampering. His girlfriend, Sharron Bynum, is accused of aiding and abetting in the theft, bribery and extortion cases.

On the tape, former aide Jonn Serikawa tells Mirikitani that he is worried about being subpoenaed. Mirikitani responds: "I don't know why they would. If you deny, you know, if you told 'em, you know, just say it's false. Just say that it was the heat of the moment."

Yesterday was the fifth day of trial before federal judge Helen Gillmor. Prosecutors describe Mirikitani as the highest-ranking elected official in Hawai'i to be indicted on federal felony charges while in office.

Mirikitani stands accused of paying two of his former employees nearly $26,600 in bonuses in exchange for them giving half the money back to him and his campaign.

Serikawa was cooperating with the FBI and wearing a microphone. When he begins to speak more specifically about why he is concerned about federal law enforcement officials coming after him and to sum up what they are discussing, Mirikitani tells him to wait and writes more on a yellow legal pad. Prosecutors said he was writing on the pad because he feared he was being taped.

Serikawa: "To put it in a nutshell ...

Mirikitani: "Wait, wait. Here." And he writes again without speaking.

Serikawa: "You like that word 'baseless,' huh?"

Mirikitani: "Otherwise, a smear. Just tell 'em it was all baseless rumors because that's what it was."

Serikawa: "But we both know it was more than that."

Mirikitani: "No, here. It's baseless."

The tape was made Feb. 10, 2000 at the Tantalus lookout after the FBI had talked to Serikawa, who agreed to cooperate with the federal investigation into the kickback allegations.

In his cross-examination after the tape was played, Mirikitani defense attorney John Edmunds picked at Serikawa's testimony and worked to erode his credibility with the jury. He questioned him about his criminal conviction for selling crystal methamphetamine.

Edmunds grilled him about lying on his job application about the felony conviction. He also underscored variations in Serikawa's account of the events.

Mirikitani makes other blunt remarks in the taped conversation:

• Mirikitani tells Serikawa that he didn't mind leaving a committee meeting because of the content. "You know those haoles from the Kailua side. They're really activist and loud."

• Serikawa prodded Mirikitani about Mayor Jeremy Harris appearing to take credit for Mirikitani's long-term efforts to have a storefront police office in the Ala Moana area. "He got all the credit for our effort," Mirikitani says. "That pissed me off."

• Serikawa expresses surprise that Mirikitani admitted he was a former cigarette smoker. Then describes himself as an ex-surfer and jokes about what that means. "I told you I never inhaled."

First elected in 1990, Mirikitani represents the urban communities of Manoa, Makiki, McCully, Tantalus, Pawa'a and Kewalo. He is barred by term limits from running for re-election.

The trial resumes tomorrow with Serikawa returning to the stand. He is being represented by former city prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro.