Rodrigues: 'I never stole, I never embezzled'
By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer
Union leader Gary Rodrigues yesterday denied allegations in a federal indictment charging him with money laundering, mail fraud and embezzling at least $200,000 from the United Public Workers union.
"I want to assure UPW members and the public that I never stole, I never embezzled, and I've never done anything to involve my daughter in anything illegal," Rodrigues said, his voice wavering, following his arraignment yesterday on the charges.
His lawyer Doron Weinberg said Rodrigues would not answer specific questions about the case.
Weinberg, a lawyer from San Francisco who specializes in criminal defense, said his client might not be facing the charges if federal officials discussed their concerns before bringing a 43-count indictment against Rodrigues on March 7.
He said the only thing Rodrigues may be guilty of is trying to help one of his daughters get a job.
Rodrigues, 59, pleaded not guilty to the embezzlement charges in federal court yesterday. In addition, Rodrigues and his daughter Robin Haunani Rodrigues Sabatini pleaded not guilty to dozens of mail fraud and money laundering charges.
Bail, in the form of an unsecured signature bond, was set at $50,000 for each. Trial is set for Aug. 28.
Federal officials allege Rodrigues, state director of the 12,000-member union representing primarily blue-collar state, county and city workers, overcharged union members for premiums on their health and dental insurance.
The additional charge was supposed to pay consultants to evaluate the plans' effectiveness, but federal prosecutors say Rodrigues steered it to companies his daughter owned. They say neither union members nor the union's executive board knew of the arrangement.
"I have no doubt he would not be here if not for the fact that he's president of the UPW," Weinberg said.
Rodrigues, among other things, is accused of using $10,000 meant for consultant fees to pay off a personal loan and $14,200 to buy a new Ford pickup truck for himself. If convicted, he almost certainly faces prison time, with terms from five to 20 years for each count, as well as removal as head of the UPW.
Weinberg said four federal agencies pored over Rodrigues' affairs for the past four years to come up with the charges.
"He has never done anything illegal," Weinberg said.
Rodrigues and his attorneys have known for nearly three years that a federal probe was under way, Weinberg said.
"It's been an incredible ordeal for Gary and his family and will be for another six months or a year. When all of this is over he will be exonerated we're going to show he did nothing wrong," Weinberg said.
When he announced the indictment at a news conference March 7, U.S. Attorney Steven Alm said Sabatini had a background in accounting and may have prepared one or more reports for the union in exchange for the consulting fees paid to her companies.
But Alm said the work Sabatini did was far below what might be expected, given the amounts she was paid.
Sabatini is being represented in the case by Honolulu attorney Richard Hoke. Weinberg is being assisted in his defense of Rodrigues by Honolulu attorney John Perkin.
Weinberg said he expects Rodrigues to continue as head of the UPW until the matter is resolved. Within days of the indictment, the union's board of directors issued a statement supporting Rodrigues, noting that the state Legislature was in session, considering such issues as pay raises for UPW members and the means by which those raises could be paid.
While he has held on to the UPW's top post, Rodrigues voluntarily suspended his participation as a member of the Judicial Selection Commission following his indictment. The commission submits the list of names from which the governor and chief justice make appointments to the state bench. The panel also has the sole discretion to reappoint judges.