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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 15, 2002

Harris' fund-raiser summoned

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Mayor Jeremy Harris' top campaign fund-raiser, a police officer and a veteran political pollster appeared yesterday before a grand jury investigating Harris' campaign finances and the awarding of city contracts.

Fund-raiser Peter Char stayed in the grand jury chamber just five minutes but would not say whether he invoked his right to remain silent or would seek immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony.

"The Harris campaign is cooperating fully with this proceeding, and we're confident everything's going to come out all right," said William McCorriston, Char's attorney.

A statement issued by Char said that he had been subpoenaed to produce documents related to campaign consultant Harry Mattson, but that he had no such information. Char said Mattson and the campaign already had produced the material sought by prosecutors.

McCorriston said he had asked a judge to decide whether a subpoena was necessary but had stopped short of filing a motion to quash it.

Char, a medical malpractice attorney, heads two nonprofit groups that held international environmental conferences in conjunction with the Harris administration. Prosecutors questioned City Council members and a tax attorney about public money going to the events.

Char's wife, Lynette, a deputy in Harris' Cabinet who helped organize the events, was described as a target of the investigation in a suit she filed against the city.

Prosecutors have alleged that the nonprofit groups created a "political slush fund" and engaged in prohibited political activity, according to the suit, which asks that a civil court rule that Lynette Char and the groups did nothing improper.

Prosecutors would not say if Peter Char is also a target of the investigation. A Harris spokeswoman said the mayor had no comment on the grand jury or Char's appearance before it.

Police officer Ernest Chang, who also appeared yesterday before the grand jury, declined to comment.

He is an associate of Lisa-Katharine Otsuka, who has been charged with theft and forgery in an unrelated case. She has refused to testify before the secret panel while seeking immunity from prosecution in state and federal courts.

In August, police raided Otsuka's hotel room in Waikiki and found a box of ammunition that allegedly belonged to Chang. Otsuka was arrested on suspicion of money laundering, promoting prostitution and illegally operating a business.

Pollster Don Clegg, the final witness yesterday, said prosecutors asked him about polls he conducted for Harris' 1996 and 2000 campaigns. Prosecutors wanted to know why he was polling for Harris while Mattson was performing the same type of work, Clegg said.

"My answers were that candidates are very skittish people and they like to get a second opinion, and other than that I don't know about polling," he said.

Harris campaign co-chairman Rick Tsujimura is out of town but is expected to appear before the grand jury when he returns.

Otsuka is also an associate of Mattson, and prosecutors have questioned whether she improperly received money from the Harris campaign through Mattson's consulting firms, which were paid about $75,000 by the campaign.

Otsuka was indicted Tuesday on theft and forgery charges for allegedly bilking an auto repair business out of $12,000 when she was its bookkeeper in 1999.

She is also awaiting trial for allegedly stealing $3,000 from a dance group. Her attorney complained that prosecutors are dredging up old cases to pressure her to testify before the Harris grand jury.

Harris and Otsuka say they don't know each other, and Harris has insisted there is no connection between campaign contributions and the awarding of city contracts.

Prosecutors would not say when the grand jury will convene again.

Reach Johnny Brannon at jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.