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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 18, 2002

Harris case witness seeks immunity

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Lisa Otsuka, with attorney Paul Cunney, says her mother was questioned about the Harris case.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

A woman who refused to testify yesterday before an O'ahu grand jury investigating Mayor Jeremy Harris' campaign finances and the awarding of city contracts will seek immunity from prosecution in state and federal courts, her attorney said.

Lisa-Katharine Otsuka, 32, said she was "horrified" that police had also attempted to question her mother about the case after arresting her for an unpaid traffic ticket.

"My mother is sweet and kind and would never have any reason to have any experience like that," Otsuka said. "She was at work, working, and they came in uniform, handcuffed her, and had blue-and-white cars waiting on the street outside."

Otsuka said her mother had been frightened and humiliated by the arrest.

"She said they were not discreet about it, and it was just very upsetting, and that sitting in the cellblock at the main police station was really terrifying for her," Otsuka said.

The Honolulu Police Department confirmed that Otsuka's mother was arrested near Punchbowl and King streets on Oct. 2 for a traffic warrant and was released the same day on $500 bail.

HPD declined to comment further, and the mother said she did not want to talk about the arrest.

Otsuka's attorney, Paul Cunney, said it was very unusual for someone to be arrested at the workplace for a traffic warrant and be questioned about unrelated matters.

He characterized the arrest as "harassment" and said prosecutors were "barking up the wrong tree" by calling Otsuka before the grand jury, which will meet again in two weeks.

"This just seems to be some type of a witch hunt," Cunney said. "That's why I thought it was kind of funny that it's being continued to Oct. 31, which is Halloween."

He said Otsuka had answered basic questions about her identity before the grand jury and had provided a handwriting sample after a judge ruled she must comply. She was arrested last month after she failed to appear before the grand jury's first hearing.

Deputy city prosecutor Randal Lee said it would be inappropriate for him to publicly discuss the case.

Other witnesses have appeared before a federal grand jury as part of a related investigation, and Cunney said Otsuka would seek immunity from federal and state prosecution before testifying further.

"She can't at this point make statements at all because we don't know what HPD has up their sleeve," he said.

Harris campaign attorney Chris Parsons appeared before the state grand jury yesterday with documents that were subpoenaed, but said he does not know what prosecutors want from Otsuka.

"We're clueless," he said. "As far as the officers of the campaign, the people who were running the campaign, we have no information. We don't know Miss Otsuka."

Otsuka is an associate of Harry Mattson, a consultant who was paid to work on Harris' 2000 re-election campaign, and investigators have asked whether campaign money went to Otsuka. Harris and Otsuka say they do not know each other; Mattson has not returned repeated calls.

Otsuka was indicted on a theft charge in September for allegedly stealing about $3,000 from a dance group's fund-raising event a year ago. She was also arrested at a Waikiki hotel in August on suspicion of money laundering, promoting prostitution and illegally operating a business, but she has not been charged with those offenses.

Cunney said it appeared that prosecutors were using those arrests as leverage to extract information from Otsuka and seek charges against others. He said prosecutors had not pursued the theft case until Otsuka was linked to the Harris investigation.

Otsuka cooperated with police officers who arrested her at the hotel, and allowed them to search her room after they said they were looking for illegal drugs, Cunney said.

While no drugs were found, he said, the officers had seized a computer, cellular phone, Palm Pilot and other personal belongings, and had yet to give them back.

Harris' attorney, William McCorriston, charged that the probe "had gotten to the point of ridiculousness."

"It's outrageous that the investigation is impugning the integrity of a lot of good people," he said. "What surprises me is the lack of public outrage. Maybe Hawai'i just likes Roman circuses."

Employees of at least four companies that donated heavily to Harris and won nonbid city contracts have also been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. Past and present members of Harris' Cabinet have appeared before the secret panel as well.

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