Police commissioner fined
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer
Police commissioner Leonard Leong yesterday admitted he made illegal campaign contributions to Mayor Jeremy Harris, but said he had not decided whether to step down from the civilian panel that oversees the Honolulu Police Department.
Gregory Yamamoto The Honolulu Advertiser
Leonard Leong, who was given a chance to clear his criminal record, says he's uncertain if he'll step down as police commissioner.
Gregory Yamamoto The Honolulu Advertiser
Prosecutors have subpoenaed witnesses to appear today before a grand jury that will consider felony indictments against at least three people who allegedly funnelled illegal campaign money from the R.M. Towill engineering firm to Harris.
The three have filed a civil lawsuit against the lead police investigator, charging that he arrested them earlier this year in retaliation for their refusal to testify before a previous grand jury.
Leong pleaded no contest yesterday to a misdemeanor campaign violation, and said giving money to other people so they could donate it to Harris "was a violation of the law, and I apologize and accept responsibility."
He is the first police commissioner to be charged with a crime since 1973, when John K. Cabral was fined $25 after pleading guilty to failing to exercise care while driving. Cabral, an appointee of former Mayor Frank Fasi, resigned to take a position with Fasi's unsuccessful campaign for governor.
District Court Judge Lono Lee yesterday ordered Leong to pay a $1,000 fine but granted him a chance to clear his criminal record if he is not charged with another offense for one year.
Defense attorney Mark Kawata said Leong "is a person of the highest ethics and integrity" and will stay out of trouble.
Leong faced a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Deputy city prosecutor Randal Lee asked the judge to impose the lesser penalty but argued against the second chance, called a deferred acceptance of plea.
"What Mr. Leong did in this case is not only undermine the electoral process, but he undermined his position on the Police Commission ... Although he's not deserving of jail, he's not deserving of a deferral," Randal Lee said.
Leong is vice president of Royal Contracting Co. He, the firm, and its president, David H. Hulihee, agreed Monday to pay the state Campaign Spending Commission a $20,000 fine for making illegal donations to Harris and two others.
Leong would not say why he made illegal donations to Harris while serving as a police commissioner. He said others on the seven-member panel are considering whether he should remain, and that he planned to attend a commission meeting today. Commission chairman Ronald Taketa could not be reached for comment.
City Councilman Charles Djou said there's no question that Leong should resign. To remain on the panel "sends the wrong signals to the public and brings the integrity of the Police Commission into question," he said. "That integrity is so important that Mr. Leong should step down to avoid the appearance of impropriety."
Harris, who appointed Leong in 1996, had declined to ask Leong to recuse himself from police business while the charge was pending, despite concerns by some City Council members. Leong's term expires in 2005.
Harris spokeswoman Carol Costa said the mayor is in Greece to attend an environmental event and had given no indication whether he would ask Leong to resign should he be convicted or change his original plea of not guilty. Harris is scheduled to return Nov. 12, and Costa declined a request to contact him before then.
Council chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said he did not know whether Leong should resign, but that it might be a good idea to hold a hearing on the subject.
"We need some type of accountability so at least the public feels we're not just letting it go," he said.
The council is scheduled to vote today on Harris' latest nominee to the panel, former city budget director Caroll Takahashi.
Takahashi held high-level positions in Harris' administration for eight years, and ran the Department of Budget and Fiscal Services from 2001 until her resignation in mid-2002.
Reach Johnny Brannon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8070.