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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Rodrigues' bail a miscarriage

By David Shapiro

Union boss Gary Rodrigues always acted as if he were above the law, and it's starting to look like he might be right.

Judge David Ezra yesterday sentenced Rodrigues to five years in prison for 101 counts of mail fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and kickbacks, but Ezra raised doubt that Rodrigues will ever go to jail for his crimes by agreeing to leave the convicted labor leader free on bail pending appeal.

His attorneys will try to stretch out the appeals for years in the sluggish federal court system, and at 61 already, Rodrigues will certainly cry for leniency on the grounds of old age and infirmity when his appeals run out.

The court's generosity in leaving Rodrigues free gives him time to dispose of whatever resources he has to pay the $388,000 in fines and restitution ordered by the court.

Rodrigues hardly fits the profile of a criminal defendant worthy of such a break.

Among Ezra's considerations in allowing continued bail was whether there were substantial errors at trial that could reasonably lead to reversal of the convictions. The judge repeatedly said in rejecting Rodrigues' preliminary appeals that he doesn't see much chance of reversal.

At trial, Rodrigues' lawyer offered no defense to dispute that his client did what prosecutors alleged, but contended that what he did didn't violate federal law.

Rodrigues shows no regret and refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Another judge admonished him for belligerent statements prosecutors took as threats, and he had nothing contrite to say to Ezra at sentencing.

After his conviction, he initially refused to acknowledge his suspension from the United Public Workers union and then tried unsuccessfully to install hand-picked successors — who no doubt would have looked favorably on Rodrigues' claims to hundreds of thousands of dollars in back vacation and sick pay from the union he was convicted of defrauding.

In pressing those claims, Rodrigues sent his lawyer into court to argue he was broke, near starving and in need of help until he would be "well fed and housed" by the federal prison system after his sentencing.

He involved his daughter, Robin Sabatini, in his criminal conspiracy by funneling kickbacks and consulting contracts through her, and she faces sentencing in December on 95 related counts.

Before the case went to trial, Rodrigues almost certainly could have struck a plea bargain that spared his daughter prison time — and possibly reduced his own time, as well — but he wouldn't get his daughter off the hook for the trouble he got her into.

The federal court works in slow and mysterious ways, taking a baffling amount of time to render and execute sentences.

In a similar high-profile case in state court, former Councilwoman Rene Mansho was sentenced to a year in prison the month after her conviction for misusing city money.

Rodrigues was convicted last November and has already been free on bail for 10 months as a result of sentencing delays.

Even if Ezra had denied further bail, federal courts are notorious for giving defendants generous time to settle their affairs between sentencing and reporting to prison.

Former Kamehameha Schools trustee Lokelani Lindsey, for instance, was sentenced by Ezra to six months in prison for bankruptcy fraud last October, but is still free as a result of three reprieves Ezra gave her to care for her ailing husband.

It makes you wonder if there really is a separate and unequal system of federal justice for influential white-collar criminals.

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net.