Lawyer charged in donations made to Harris
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer
An O'ahu grand jury yesterday indicted prominent Honolulu attorney Edward Y.C. Chun on two misdemeanor charges for allegedly orchestrating illegal campaign contributions to Mayor Jeremy Harris.
Chun, 71, is accused of advising a client, the Food Pantry grocery chain, to funnel at least $9,000 in company money to Harris' campaign committee under the names of three Food Pantry employees.
The donations were made from 1996 to 2000, prosecutors said. The legal limit for contributions to a mayoral candidate is $4,000 from a person or company during a four-year election cycle.
Chun, a senior partner in the Chun Kerr Dodd Beaman and Wong law firm, faces up to two years in jail and a $2,000 fine if convicted. He would not comment on the indictment, and Food Pantry officials did not return calls.
Chun is the second person to face criminal charges since prosecutors began investigating Harris' campaign finances 16 months ago.
Last December, SSFM International engineering firm president Michael Matsumoto pleaded no contest to felony money laundering and misdemeanor campaign finance charges. He is awaiting sentencing.
Deputy prosecutor Randal Lee said Food Pantry employees made donations to Harris and were illegally reimbursed by the company, but that its board of directors had not approved such activities.
"They were victimized by Mr. Chun's advisements," Lee said.
He said "someone from the Harris campaign had solicited Mr. Chun," but would not name the person or clarify whether they solicited an action they knew to be illegal. He said the investigation is ongoing and that others could face charges.
Harris' attorney, William McCorriston, said the mayor had not asked for or knowingly accepted any improper campaign money, and that he was surprised and saddened by Chun's indictment.
"He is known by his colleagues in the law as being both brilliant and ethical, and in many respects he's a lawyer's lawyer," McCorriston said. "It is hard to imagine that Ed Chun would do anything intentional to break the law."
Harris campaign attorney Chris Parsons said he was not aware of any campaign officials being questioned by prosecutors about anything related to Food Pantry.
The larger investigation of Harris' campaign fund raising has focused mostly on money from city contractors, especially architects and engineers. Lee said the indictment illustrates that the probe is not limited to those areas.
"It shows the wide-reaching effect of the campaign violations," he said. "It's now gone beyond just the architects and engineers. It's now extending to other areas within our community."
He would not say whether Food Pantry had requested or been offered any special treatment by city officials in exchange for donations to the mayor.
Harris said he did not know Chun and had never been lobbied by Food Pantry.
Three Food Pantry employees were subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury yesterday, company attorney Howard Luke said. Food Pantry and the larger Foodland supermarket chain include some common owners, but the two are separate entities and Foodland is not involved in the case, he said.
State Campaign Spending Commission director Robert Watada, who also testified, said he is investigating additional questionable donations that appear to be connected to Food Pantry, and that the total could reach $20,000.
Chun could face sanctions by the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel whether he is convicted or not, depending on details of his allegedly improper actions.
Attorneys are subject to penalties ranging from censure to disbarment if they lie, act unethically or commit a crime, ODC chief disciplinary counsel Carole Richelieu said. Action in such cases normally takes place after related criminal proceedings conclude, she said.
Advertiser staff writer Treena Shapiro contributed to this report. Reach Johnny Brannon at email@example.com or 525-8070.