Prosecutors link car, stolen cash
By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer
A 23-year-old Honolulu man who paid cash for a BMW sports car in February probably used some of the $51,500 stolen from the Punahou School carnival and should be made to forfeit the car, according to court papers filed by city prosecutors this week.
Harlan Higa was arrested April 25 and questioned about the carnival theft, according to a police report attached to the forfeiture request filed in Circuit Court Thursday.
Higa was released and has not been charged with any crime.
Higa's lawyer, Victor Bakke, called the allegations against his client "a complete fabrication" and said Higa was not involved in any crime.
In the court documents filed Thursday:
The car's former owner told police he listed the 1997 BMW 318i for sale in a newspaper at a price of $17,500 and that he met Higa and his brother Dustin at the 'Aina Haina McDonalds on Feb. 14, 11 days after Punahou reported the theft of the cash raised at the carnival.
The former owner told investigators that Higa made a counter-offer of $16,500, which was accepted, and that the brothers accompanied him to his home and gave him the money, which was bundled and bound with a rubber band.
The seller told police that Higa apologized for the large number of small bills involved in the transaction, saying he did not have time to go to the bank. The seller said he told Higa, "You must work in a restaurant," and that Higa replied that he had just returned from Las Vegas. He used $14,000 in $20 bills, $1,000 in $10 bills, $1,000 in $5 bills and $500 in $100 bills to buy the car.
Higa told the BMW seller he was concerned about getting insurance on the car and that he was going to register it in Dustin's name. The brothers listed their home address on the Punahou School campus, where their father lives and works.
The BMW was seized on July 17 and remains in police custody.
On Nov. 21, Bakke filed a claim on Higa's behalf in Circuit Court asking that the car be returned.
"The alleged crime(s) involving ... Harlan Higa never occurred," Bakke said in the court papers. "Mr. Higa did not commit a burglary and theft at an office of Punahou School's Sullivan Administration Building between Feb. 3, 2002, and Feb. 4, 2002. Mr. Higa committed no crime on or about this date and the allegations against him are a complete fabrication."
"They (police and prosecutors) don't have any evidence, not one shred of evidence, connecting him with the theft of the Punahou money," Bakke said last night.
Bakke, a former city deputy prosecutor, said the case is an example of why the public should be wary of state forfeiture laws.
"All they have to do is file a probable cause affidavit and they can take your personal property away from you," Bakke said. The person from whom the property is taken then has to file a $2,500 bond and, in most cases, hire a lawyer to prove they did not do what they are accused of.
A hearing on the forfeiture request is tentatively set for 10:30 a.m. May 5 before Circuit Judge Reynaldo Graulty.
Reach David Waite at email@example.com or 525-8030.