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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Kahapea asks parole board for shorter term

By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer

Former city housing official Michael Kahapea, who was convicted of bilking the city out of nearly $5.8 million in connection with the Ewa Villages revitalization project, asked state parole officials yesterday for a short prison term so he can become "a productive citizen" and begin repaying the money.

Former city housing official Michael Kahapea swindled the city out of nearly $5.8 million and was sentenced to a 50-year term in 2000. Yesterday he asked for a shorter term so he could begin restitution.

Advertiser library photo • July 11, 2000

Kahapea, 59, was sentenced to a 50-year term by Circuit Judge Reynaldo Graulty in 2000 after a jury found him guilty of multiple first-degree theft, money laundering and unlawful business ownership charges.

During Kahapea's trial, city Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee claimed Kahapea billed the city repeatedly for services that were never performed and steered contracts to friends and relatives who gave him huge kickbacks in return.

Lee told members of the Hawaii Paroling Authority yesterday that Kahapea should be made to serve the full, 50-year term, because he was a public official who abused a position of trust.

Lee described Kahapea as a man who used his family, friends, co-workers and even his children to carry out fraudulent schemes to feed a gambling addiction.

"He ripped off the the city in all of the city projects he handled," not just Ewa Villages, Lee said.

He said Kahapea squandered the money in hostess bars and on trips to Las Vegas.

"Michael Kahapea should not be allowed to return to society until he has served a significant amount of time," Lee said.

But Reginald Minn, Kahapea's lawyer, said that while Kahapea committed "a large-scale theft, it was a property crime that did not result in harm or the threat of harm to any individual."

He said Kahapea was overcome with a gambling addiction and because of his city job, was in a position to carry out the theft scheme "not without the complicity of others."

Of the many co-defendants who were convicted in the case, only Kahapea received a prison sentence while the rest were given probation, Minn said.

"For most of his life, Michael Kahapea was a law-abiding, productive citizen," Minn said. Chances of Kahapea ever paying back some of the money he stole from the city "are remote" if he is forced to serve a long term, Minn said.

Kahapea told parole board chairman Al Beaver and member Lani Rae Garcia that he was "sorry for what happened."

"In looking at my gambling addiction, I disregarded the values established in me by my parents, family and schools," Kahapea said. "Bad choices are not the sum total of my life. I would like to make restitution, but I can only do that if I'm on the outside," he said.

But speaking to Kahapea through a video-conferencing hookup, Garcia told him she believed he enjoyed a criminal lifestyle.

"The bottom line is you wanted to use city money for your own use," Garcia said.

The long sentence imposed by Judge Graulty on someone convicted of a property crime "speaks volumes" about the judge's feelings toward someone who violates the public's trust, Garcia said.

Beaver agreed, saying it "was clear that the judge was sending a message." Beaver said he believes there was an "appearance of arrogance" in the manner in which Kahapea committed the theft of city money.

Beaver and Garcia said they will announce within a month the minimum term Kahapea must serve before applying for parole.

Reach David Waite at dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030.