Grand jury transcript details police food scam
By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer
Honolulu police Sgt. Margaret Hirakawa knew that food that was supposedly purchased for cellblock detainees was being eaten instead by police officers.
But she never knew the extent of the so-called "food scam" until she was told the arsenal room had run out of storage space and she went there to check.
"I said, 'It's an arsenal, how many guns do we have,'" Hirakawa said.
"I went over there to look and there were boxes on top of boxes to the ceilings of stuff, and it was all for the kitchen."
The sergeant said she saw cases of Spam and crates of eggs and box after box of cups that were never used at the police Central Receiving Division.
Hirakawa was one of nearly a dozen witnesses testifying before the O'ahu grand jury that indicted Assistant Police Chief Rafael Fajardo, 59, and Maj. Jeffrey Owens, 50. They are accused of purchasing food for the officers with money that was supposed to buy meals for the detainees from January 1995 to September 2000.
Each was charged with a single count of second-degree theft. Both have pleaded not guilty and a trial is set for August.
While grand jury proceedings are closed to the public, a 240-page transcript of the Aug. 23 grand jury session became public recently when Owens' defense lawyer filed it in court as part of a request to dismiss the theft charge. A hearing on the dismissal request is scheduled for Feb. 12.
Some details of the theft allegations have been previously made public, but the grand jury transcript reviewed by The Advertiser provides a more complete picture of what witnesses say was a long-standing practice at the cellblock of providing meals to officers despite questions raised about its propriety.
The Central Receiving Division is part of the main police station where arrestees are processed and held at the cellblock to await their initial court appearance.
Both former Police Chief Michael Nakamura and Police Chief Lee Donohue at times ate the free meals, according to witnesses. Both have since denied knowing that the food was purchased with money that was to pay for detainee meals.
One police investigator estimated the cost to the taxpayers of feeding the officers instead of the prisoners was $21,000.
According to several of those who testified before the grand jury, food purchases made by the Central Receiving Division while Fajardo and then Owens were in command raised eyebrows within HPD's budget and accounting sections.
That's because facilities to cook meals for prisoners were not included in the plans for the main police station on Beretania Street that opened in 1992. The theory was that HPD could cut costs by reheating airline-type meals in convection ovens at the new station.
But a few years after the new station opened, raw meat, eggs and other items that needed to be cooked not merely reheated began showing up on the requisition forms that the Central Receiving Division was submitting to the department's budget and purchasing office.
Accountant Dennis Yamashita, a veteran HPD civilian employee, wondered why.
"Since I've been there, (for) breakfast we were serving only peanut butter and jam sandwiches," Yamashita told the grand jury.
He said he began asking questions.
"What came back to me was that the major (Fajardo) in central receiving says, 'If you don't like what we're doing, you can come down and run it yourself,' '' Yamashita told the grand jury.
At that point, Yamashita said, he discussed the matter with the head of his section, police Maj. Gordon Young, who promised to look into the matter.
Young told the grand jury that while he was head of HPD's finance division he questioned Owens about the types of food the Central Receiving Division was ordering, ostensibly for prisoners. He said Owens justified the unorthodox purchases by saying he had learned from attending classes on the Mainland that well-fed prisoners were less likely to make trouble than hungry ones.
Young said he specifically pushed Owens on the issue of doughnuts that were being purchased with HPD money and was assured by Owens that the doughnuts were being eaten by prisoners and not police officers.
"I said, 'You shouldn't be buying these things,' and he said, 'Is this my budget or is this your budget.' And he asked me if I wanted to run the place, then come run the place," Young told the grand jurors.
Young said that several years later, when he was assigned to head the Central Receiving Division, Owens gave him an orientation tour.
During the tour, Young said, he noticed a table with two boxes of doughnuts and another with bread and butter and a toaster on it. He said Owens told him the food was left out for police officers to snack on.
Young said he then issued an order to everyone under his command in the Central Receiving Division that they were not to eat prisoners' food. He said he got word back from several of his subordinates that many of the police officers were unhappy with the order and several of them put in for transfers.
At that point, the ordering of raw foods ceased, Young said.
During his grand jury testimony, Ernest Villanueva, a former cellblock food service worker, said he began cooking meals for police officers after Fajardo took over as head of the Central Receiving Division in 1996 and asked him to order "something special for the holidays" for the officers under Fajardo's command.
Villanueva said the food listed for consumption by prisoners, but which was consumed by police officers while Fajardo or Owens were in charge of the Central Receiving Division, included eggs, breakfast meats, pork loin, turkey, rib-eye steaks, chicken, roast beef and ham.
Villanueva has since pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree theft and has agreed to testify against Owens and Farjardo at trial.
Fajardo and Owens did not testify before the grand jury. But police Maj. Daniel Hanagami, lead investigator on the case, told the grand jury members he interviewed both men.
He said Fajardo told him he was unaware that anything other than airline-type meals was being purchased by the Central Receiving Division while he was in command.
Hanagami said Fajardo told him that a friend, Walter Miura, who owns a catering company, would bring food to the station sometimes. Fajardo said he would also give the food service workers money to buy breakfast foods and they would come back and cook it in the Central Receiving Division kitchen.
He said Owens told him that he believed he was continuing the food buying practices of prior commanders of the Central Receiving Division and confirmed that he authorized food service workers to order a turkey and meats.
"He wanted to cook it and serve it to the officers to increase their morale because ... they were in a confined area and didn't have too much opportunities to leave the Central Receiving Division as other officers who are on the road," Hanagami said.
He said Owens told him an investigation into the use of food purchased by the Central Receiving Division should not be made into a big deal. He said Owens maintained that the food fed to police officers served a departmental function because it kept them happy and therefore, decreased the likelihood the officers might assault prisoners in the cellblock.
"He could not see the logic of him doing wrong by giving food to the officers," Hanagami told the grand jury.
Owens' attorney, Ching, declined to comment directly on the grand jury transcript. But in papers filed in the case filed last week, Ching said Owens is not accused of stealing the food for his own personal use.
Farjardo's lawyer Howard Luke could not be reached to comment.
Reach David Waite at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8030.