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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, October 26, 2002

Film contractor sentenced

By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer

Hawai'i movie industry figure George Cambra was sentenced to two years in prison by a federal judge yesterday for his part in burning movie trucks owned by two of his competitors in 1991, essentially putting them out of business.

Federal Judge Helen Gillmor allowed Cambra to remain free on bail until Jan. 31, when he must turn himself in by 2 p.m. that day at a yet to be determined prison facility on the Mainland.

Cambra pleaded guilty in 1999 to conspiring with Joseph "Joe Boy" Tavares to burn movie trucks owned by George Nottingham and Billy Takaki so that Cambra would be the only one in Hawai'i with trucks and other equipment to rent to television and motion-picture production crews.

Cambra testified at Tavares' trial, saying Tavares approached him with the idea of burning out the competition and that Tavares demanded 50 percent of his future profits after competitors were eliminated. Tavares was sentenced in October 1999 to 15 1/2 years in prison.

Gillmor yesterday said she will ask federal prison officials to make sure that Cambra is not sent to the same prison where Tavares is serving his sentence.

Cambra could have been sentenced from slightly less than four years to a maximum of five years and seven months under federal guidelines for conspiring with Tavares to burn the equipment owed by Nottingham and Takaki.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshal Silverberg, who handled the case against Tavares and Cambra, told Gillmor that the government could not have brought the arson case against Tavares without Cambra's cooperation. He asked for a 50 percent reduction in the term called for under the sentencing guidelines.

Silverberg told Gillmor that former state film office director Gerogette Deemer estimated that the arson incident set Hawai'i's film industry back two or three years.

No one was charged with the truck burning until 1998, Silverberg said, adding that Cambra has made "extraordinary restitution" to Takaki and Nottingham for the damage done to their equipment.

Cambra's lawyer, Brook Hart, asked Gillmor for a sentence of no more than 21 months. Hart said Cambra took responsibility for his wrongdoing by pleading guilty and then testifying before a federal grand jury and at Tavares' trial. Hart said Cambra has already paid $62,000 of the $137,000 he must pay Nottingham in restitution and $45,000 of the $63,000 he must pay Takaki.

Hart called the amount of money Cambra has paid to the two arson victims "extraordinary" given his education, physical condition and his being stripped of a Teamsters union card after pleading guilty to the arson.

"George is not a rocket scientist — he's not going to develop any new nuclear theories," Hart said. But he described Cambra as "hard working" and determined to make amends for the arson "by seeking employment with independent production companies" so he could make restitution payments.

Cambra apologized for his involvement in the arson.

"The court's been real lenient in helping me regain my status in the community," Cambra said. "I appreciate what the court has done here and I am ready to take my punishment," he said.

Gillmor delayed sending Cambra to prison until the end of January so that he can fulfill video and television commercial production contracts he entered into previously providing him with money to continue making restitution.

Cambra's sentencing had been scheduled for January, but was moved up to yesterday after he slapped an actor on the set of the "Baywatch" movie set.

Cambra said after yesterday's hearing that he hopes to continue in the movie production business once he completes his sentence.

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