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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, April 26, 2002

Mansho pleads guilty to theft, faces 10-year term

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer

Former City Councilwoman Rene Mansho pleaded guilty to two counts of felony theft yesterday in Circuit Court. Attorney James Koshiba accompanied Mansho, who could be sentenced to 10 years in prison on the charges.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Former City Councilwoman Rene Mansho pleaded guilty to felony theft charges yesterday as part of a plea agreement in which city prosecutors agreed to not seek forgery, racketeering and money laundering charges against her.

Mansho agreed to pay a $25,000 fine under the plea agreement. Details of the agreement were made public for the first time.

The prosecution also agreed to limit any request at her sentencing June 26-27 to a maximum 10-year term, instead of asking for a lengthier sentence.

The usually effusive and colorful Mansho and her attorney, James Koshiba, declined to comment on the case after she pleaded guilty to the charges that she stole money from the city and her campaign fund. "I think everything we want to say will be said in court," Koshiba said.

Circuit Court Judge Gail Nakatani scheduled sentencing for two days because witnesses will be called from both sides.

The guilty pleas mark another step in the downfall of the 52-year-old former schoolteacher who represented the Mililani and North Shore areas since 1988 until she abruptly resigned April 10, the same day the O'ahu grand jury was supposed to meet in her case. That session was canceled.

Instead, she was later charged with first-degree theft and second-degree theft.

In pleading guilty yesterday, Mansho said: "I was charged with the use of my city staff for non-city business during city time. And as the elected council member for the office, I am taking the responsibility."

Nakatani indicated that Mansho will seek a deferred acceptance of guilty pleas which would give her the opportunity to clear her record of the convictions later on if she abides by conditions similar to probation.

But Nakatani told her there is no guarantee that the judge will accept it. "You are taking a risk or a gamble," Nakatani told her.

City prosecutors yesterday said Mansho's statement of guilt fell short of taking direct responsibility for the crimes. "She didn't take responsibility," city Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Takata said. "The only thing she took are taxpayers' monies and too long to resign."

"The way she phrased it, it's like she's implying that others did it, but because she was their boss, she's assuming guilt or responsibility for that and that's not the case here," Takata said.

City Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee said the plea agreement saved taxpayers' money and a lengthy trial. He said that the city is seeking a 10-year prison term for Mansho because of the seriousness of the case, involving a theft of taxpayers' money by a public official. "She breached the public trust and she stole from taxpayers," Lee said.

Mansho pleaded guilty to first-degree theft of stealing at least $20,000 in city money between April 1, 1989, and Dec. 31, 2000, and second-degree theft of stealing more than $300 in her campaign money from Jan. 1, 1994, to Aug. 31, 2000.

Prosecutors yesterday declined to disclose more details of the charges. But earlier, a city Ethics Commission investigation pegged the price of Mansho's misuse of city funds at $148,000 to have her employees perform Aloha Boat Days work, campaign tasks and other non-city functions.

In March 2001, Mansho was fined $40,000 by the state Campaign Spending Commission for misusing campaign money. She was accused of using more than $48,000 for personal expenses, such as travel, football season tickets and Christmas parties.

That same month, Mansho reached a settlement with the city Ethics Commission and paid $40,000 in fines for using her council staff for work unrelated to her office. The commission said Mansho used her staff to manage her campaign finances and to participate in Aloha Boat Days, a program that welcomes cruise ships to Honolulu Harbor with live music and flowers.

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