Sheriff admits dealings with two felons look 'bad'
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
State Sheriff John F. Souza III has business ties with two convicted felons, one a former police officer recently released from federal prison, the other a Leeward Coast parolee whose home and other properties were searched last week by police and federal agents.
Souza, a retired Honolulu police detective appointed head of the Sheriff Division in the Department of Public Safety last August by Gov. Linda Lingle, said yesterday the business relationships are innocent but he is thinking about resigning from office because "the appearance is bad."
Last year, Souza sold a seven-acre parcel of land in Makaha to Jonnaven Monalim, a state prison parolee whose 'Ewa Beach residence was raided Friday by law enforcement agents investigating illegal gambling and other criminal activities.
Souza, the fiance of state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), purchased the Makaha property in 2001 from Hanabusa and her family for $200,000 and sold it to Monalim in October 2003 for $225,000, according to real estate records.
Hanabusa said she was not involved in Souza's resale of the property.
"I know he was trying to sell it, and I think he said he eventually lost money when he did sell," Hanabusa said yesterday.
Monalim got a $25,000 mortgage loan from Souza that is still in effect, according to documents filed with the state Bureau of Conveyances.
Souza said he signed a binding contract to sell the property to Monalim before he became sheriff.
"I would never have done that after I took office," Souza said. "I know who this guy is and what his reputation is. When I dealt with this guy, he looked totally clean. He was preaching that had had done his time and learned his lesson."
Souza said the sale to Monalim wasn't finalized until October because Monalim had trouble finding financing.
When the deed and the mortgage loan documents were signed in October, Souza said he should have notified the director of public safety, John Peyton, but did not.
"At the time, I wasn't even thinking about that," Souza said. "I was just happy I was getting rid of this dead dog of a property."
Monalim declined to comment this week on the recent search of his home or his real-estate purchase involving Souza.
"I'm not gonna say nothing about that," Monalim said.
His attorney, William Harrison, said he had not spoken to Monalim about the searches or the property purchase.
"I can tell you that clearly there has been an FBI investigation of him under way for a long time," Harrison said. "He's had some problems in the past, but he cleaned up his act."
There is no indication that the Monalim investigation involves Souza. The property Souza sold to Monalim was not among at least four different locations on O'ahu raided by police and federal agents armed with search warrants.
Local FBI officials here declined comment, and Lt. Stanley Lum of the HPD narcotics vice unit also said he could not speak about last week's raids.
Monalim is a cousin of Wai'anae crime figure Rodney Joseph Jr., now awaiting trial on murder charges related to the bloody January shootout at the Pali golf course that left two men dead and another critically wounded.
Monalim and Joseph were convicted of burglary and terroristic threatening charges in 1994 after they invaded a Wai'anae home and threatened the occupants with a shotgun.
In 1998, Monalim was convicted of assaulting a Wai'anae teenager, a case that gained considerable notoriety after Circuit Judge Sandra Simms sentenced Monalim to 10 years in prison but delayed the start of his prison sentence for 3 1/2 months so he could help raise his newborn child.
He was released from prison in late 2000 and is on parole until October 2008.
Souza also has business ties to George "Buddy" DeRamos Jr., a former Honolulu police officer convicted in 2001 for his role in the 1995 beating of prisoner Richard Doolin in the police station cellblock.
Prosecutors said DeRamos did not beat Doolin but was in charge of the cellblock when the beating occurred, tried to cover it up by lying to investigators and attempted to "physically intimidate" Doolin after the beating. DeRamos was sentenced to 30 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, the federal equivalent of state parole.
Souza said DeRamos is "a very dear friend of mine" who was hired to manage a trucking company Souza owns because DeRamos needed a second chance after his release from prison. Souza said he turned over operation of the trucking business to DeRamos so that he could devote himself full time to his duties as sheriff division administrator.
As in the Monalim case, Souza said he never disclosed his business relationship with DeRamos to Peyton, nor did Peyton think it was a problem when informed by The Advertiser last week that DeRamos was working for Souza.
"His private business is his private business," Peyton said.
Peyton is a former assistant U.S. attorney who worked closely with Souza when Souza was with the HPD. He said since taking the reins at the Public Safety Department, where his responsibilities include oversight of the state prison system, he has learned the importance of "how to move people out of prisons into responsible, self-supporting jobs."
Peyton said he recommended Souza to head the sheriff division "because of all the people I know, he was the best qualified to do the job" and has not been disappointed. He said Souza took the job "at some personal sacrifice" and "he's done nothing short of a great job since he's been here."
Souza said Monday he has told DeRamos to handle any further business discussions about the Makaha property with Monalim directly.
That arrangement, however, would require two convicted felons, one of them on supervised release from federal prison, the other on parole from state prison, to deal with each other.
Betty Taylor, head of the federal probation department here, and Tommy Johnson, administrator of the Hawaii Paroling Authority, said DeRamos and Monalim cannot associate with each other.
"That's something that I just didn't think about," Souza said. "The last thing I want to do is cause Buddy (DeRamos) problems. If this guy (Monalim) calls, Buddy just takes a message and refers it to my lawyer."
DeRamos said yesterday he has never met Monalim and last spoke to him in November or December. He said if Monalim calls, DeRamos does nothing more than take messages.
"I've already discussed this with my probation officer and they have no problem with it," DeRamos said.
DeRamos said that he and Souza speak about the trucking business before or after Souza's working hours at the sheriff division but not while Souza is on duty.
The sheriff division of the Department of Public Safety provides security at airports, courts and other public buildings. State sheriffs also serve arrest warrants and provide assistance at court-ordered property evictions.
Souza said he planned to tell Lingle's chief of staff, Bob Awana, of his desire to quit his job.
"I don't want to cause any problems for Colleen and John Peyton. This transaction with Monalim looks bad. (FBI Special Agent) Dan Kelly called me and read me the riot act about it," Souza said.
Hanabusa, who plans to be married to Souza at the end of the year, said yesterday Souza mentioned the possibility of resigning.
"I told him this kind of thing goes with the territory when you're in public office," she said.
Reach Jim Dooley at email@example.com at 535-2447.