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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, October 17, 2004

Engineer says test clears him

By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer

In the wake of a city prosecutor's comments linking him to illegal campaign donations, Honolulu businessman and engineer Dennis Mitsunaga says he has taken a privately administered lie-detector test that concludes he's truthful when he denies having solicited tainted money.

WHAT WAS SAID ON POLYGRAPH TESTS

Honolulu businessman Dennis Mitsunaga took a lie-detector test administered by Michael Orian of Orian Polygraph Investigative Service at its Bishop Street offices. On Oct. 6, Orian concluded in his report that Mitsunaga was being "truthful." Some of the questions and answers:

• Since 1995, and beside for saying "Hi," did you talk to George Nishimura about anything? No.

• Since 1995, did you talk to George Nishimura about campaign solicitation? No.

• When you say you never liked George Nishimura, are you lying about that? No.

• Did you ever solicit illegal contributions from anyone? No.

Terri Otani, Mitsunaga's secretary for nearly 30 years, also voluntarily took the test about allegations of illegal campaign solicitations. On Oct. 9, Orian concluded in his report that she was being "truthful." Some of the questions and answers:

• Did you ever solicit illegal campaign contributions from anyone? No.

• Did you ever ask anyone to violate campaign spending rules? No.

Honolulu Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee linked Mitsunaga to the illegal donations at a hearing last month in which engineer George Nishimura pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of illegal donations in 1999 and 2000.

Lee said Nishimura had told authorities that the donations were solicited by Mitsunaga, who had been influential in getting Nishimura state and city jobs.

"I couldn't believe what I was reading because it was completely untrue," Mitsunaga said regarding the published reports about Lee's comments.

Mitsunaga said his last encounter with Nishimura was a brief conversation at the West Loch Golf Course in 1995 — several years before the donations were made.

"I never talked to him since then, period," Mitsunaga told The Advertiser last week.

Dwight Tanaka, Nishimura's lawyer, said he and his client would have no comment on Mitsunaga's remarks.

Lee said it's difficult to comment because he has not seen the polygraph results, but added: "I'm more than happy to sit down with Dennis Mitsunaga and give him my polygraph conducted by the Honolulu Police Department."

Lee is in charge of the massive, 2-year-long criminal investigation of hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegal campaign donations made to Hawai'i politicians, most of them Democrats.

It has resulted in criminal misdemeanor prosecutions against a stream of architects and engineers who admitted to donating money over the campaign limits and under false names. But no one has been charged with soliciting illegal donations or illegally awarding government contracts.

Lee declined to say whether Mitsunaga is a target of the investigation, but said the ongoing probe involves a review of campaign donations and government contracts.

City prosecutors are now preparing for another phase in the investigation. They are arranging to present witnesses to an investigative O'ahu grand jury panel on Nov. 10.

Investigative panels, which are confidential, collect evidence and listen to testimony. Depending on what is learned, city prosecutors would have the option of seeking indictments of more serious felony charges from another panel.

Defense lawyers for engineers and others who made illegal contributions have said their clients donated the money as part of a long-standing practice of ensuring they can compete with Mainland companies for government contracts here.

They said the donations aren't solicited, but given as a matter of practice spanning decades.

Mitsunaga, president of Mitsunaga & Associates, one of the state's largest engineering and architectural consulting companies, was a political fund-raiser for former Gov. Ben Cayetano and is a friend of Cayetano. Mitsunaga is the first person named publicly by Lee as having solicited donations in connection with government jobs.

State Campaign Spending Commission director Bob Watada said earlier this month that Mitsunaga's name "keeps coming up" in his investigations of illegal donations made to Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris' campaign. Watada declined to say whether any witnesses he interviewed explicitly accuse Mitsunaga of collecting donations in exchange for getting city jobs.

Mitsunaga said he decided last week to make public comments for the first time.

"I've never responded to all these false allegations before because I just thought that it goes with the territory of being in politics," he said.

"But this last incident (Lee's remarks) was just too much. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. It's totally untrue."

He said the allegations hurt his companies' business and he doesn't know why Nishimura would make those statements. Mitsunaga said the reasons might relate to what his lawyer Michael Green said earlier, that "people say a lot of things to stay out of prison." Or, Mitsunaga said, it might be out of "professional jealousy" by Nishimura, who, like Mitsunaga, is a structural engineer.

Polygraph results aren't admissible in state courts under Hawai'i law because they aren't considered reliable enough and because the law designates a judge or jury to determine who is telling the truth rather than using tests by experts.

But law-enforcement officials sometimes conduct their own polygraph tests on suspects or witnesses to determine whether they may be telling the truth and help in investigations.

Mitsunaga said his longtime secretary, Terri Otani, also volunteered to take the polygraph because her name has been surfacing in "a bad light." The cost was $300 for each test administered by Michael Orian's Orian Polygraph Investigative Service, he said.

"Michael Orian said we passed with flying colors," Mitsunaga said. Orian could not be reached for comment.

Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030.