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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 27, 2002

Rene Mansho sent behind bars for one year

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By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer

Former City Councilwoman Rene Mansho spent her first night in prison last night after a judge ordered her to begin serving a one-year sentence for theft.

A tear rolls down the cheek of former Councilwoman Rene Mansho, who was sentenced yesterday for misusing money from taxpayers and campaign contributors.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

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Prosecutors seeking jail time for Mansho
Mansho's attorney defends her entreaties for support
Mansho appeals for help
Mansho pleads guilty to theft
Mansho could face jail

Circuit Judge Dan Kochi yesterday rejected a plea by Mansho's defense attorney to keep her from behind bars, although he stopped far short of the maximum prison term he could have imposed — 10 years. He also ordered her to pay $25,000 in restitution.

Kochi noted that he received many letters of support for Mansho from the community and was troubled when some said she was only doing what all politicians do. Were that true, Kochi said, "we place the very survival of our system of government in serious jeopardy."

Before the sentence was imposed, Mansho tearfully apologized for her actions, the first time she has publicly done so or taken responsibility for her crimes since the plea agreement was reached with city prosecutors in April. She pleaded guilty to two counts of felony theft.

"I'm very sorry for everything," Mansho said, while dabbing at her face. "It was wrong. It was my fault, and I take full responsibility."

Mansho said she hoped to have another chance to do more community service. "I am ashamed and embarrassed that I have hurt so many people," she said.

She is married and has an adult son and daughter.

Mansho began serving her time at the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua. By mid-afternoon, warden John Kellam said she had been assigned a cell with a roommate, and was wearing a blue uniform and slippers.

"She'll get no more or no less than others here," Kellam said. He said that as a minimum-security inmate, Mansho will be eligible to participate in programs such as beach cleaning, community clean-up and horticulture.

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 of her campaign money from Jan. 1, 1994, to Aug. 31, 2000. She accepted a plea agreement and prosecutors agreed to not seek forgery, racketeering and money laundering charges against her.

Mansho, 53, is a former school teacher who served on the City Council from 1988 until she resigned abruptly in April, the day an O'ahu grand jury was to have heard from a dozen witnesses about allegations that she committed theft and forgery while serving at City Hall.

James Koshiba, her defense lawyer, argued that Mansho deserved a lighter sentence for three reasons: she accepted responsibility, her "history of good works," and that she had cooperated with every government investigation into her affairs, including a Campaign Spending Commission probe and the city Ethics Commission investigation.

Those earlier probes resulted in her paying a total of $80,000 in fines and settlement.

But deputy city prosecutor Kevin Takata said, "Incarceration should be mandatory for all corrupt politicians." He said Mansho entered public office "not to serve but to be served."

Deputy city prosecutor Randal Lee said that Mansho focused her response on how the trial had publicly affected her and her family. "Nobody talks about the people, the taxpayers," Lee said.

Michelle Kidani, Mansho's former chief aide, praised Lee and Takata "for their tenacity in pursuing this case."

"I believe justice has been served, and I am happy to see it end," Kidani said.

A pre-sentencing report said Mansho took note of which companies received permit approvals from the council, apparently so she could request campaign contributions from them. When a corporation returned 12 fund-raiser tickets to her January 1997 event, Mansho wrote on the letter: "Do not assist them ... take off our list ... so selfish ... after all we did ... short memory."

In December 1999, when her secretary told her they had printed only 200 Christmas cards, Mansho responded that there was no need to send cards to "rubbish" people who didn't have clout, the report said.

The prosecutors' report also provided detailed examples of staff members' accounts of telling Mansho that campaign work on city time was wrong. They said she responded: "This is part of your job. If I don't get re-elected, you guys don't have jobs," "If the staff doesn't do this, who else is going to do it?" and "Stop being a ... bitch."

In the defense pre-sentence report, Koshiba said Mansho has accepted responsibility and complied with government investigations. "Her approach throughout this ordeal has been to try to right the wrong and to not quibble or engage in adversarial battles along the way," he said.

He said that she "has a reputation of having a good and generous heart."

City Council members generally said justice had been done, and that public officials must be above reproach.

But while some members expressed sympathy for Mansho personally, Councilman Steve Holmes said Mansho got off easy and should have been punished more for systematically looting campaign and taxpayer money for years.

"What Rene did was a lot worse than what Andy Mirikitani did, and he got four years in prison," Holmes said, referring to the former councilman who was sentenced in federal court to four years and three months in federal prison in December after being convicted of public corruption.

"She was involved in a much more serious line of campaign fraud, took trips and got the city to reimburse her, and forged checks," Holmes said.

Holmes said special interests routinely offer officials golf outings, lunches and dinners, "and Rene loves that lifestyle; she got addicted to that lifestyle."

Councilwoman Darrlyn Bunda said that "if the rules are broken, you have to pay the consequences," and that the Mirikitani and Mansho cases call attention to the fact that "you have to be morally and ethically prudent."

Some politicians at all levels of government lose their bearings because of their "new-found power," and a life in which "people are fawning all over you," Bunda said.

Hawai'i Democratic Party chairwoman Lorraine Akiba said she doesn't think people will blame the party for this latest conviction of an elected official with a longtime association as a Democrat.

As he left the court, Koshiba said Mansho was prepared for the possibility that she would have to go to prison. He said her last words to him were: "Goodbye, I'll do the best I can."

Advertiser staff writers David Waite and Walter Wright contributed to this report.