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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 25, 2005

FBI launches liquor inquiry

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

The FBI is looking into allegations that Honolulu liquor investigators accepted bribes from downtown bar owners in exchange for not enforcing liquor laws, an official said.

The probe targeting the Honolulu Liquor Commission is the second in less than four years. The first investigation was called one of the state's largest corruption cases involving a government agency.

FBI Special Agent Arnold Laanui said agents served a search warrant and seized documents at the Honolulu Liquor Commission's Kapi'olani Boulevard offices on Jan. 18. Laanui declined to give details about the focus or the scope of the investigation.

Liquor Commission administrator Wallace Weatherwax yesterday said he does not know what the FBI is looking for and that the commission is conducting an independent inquiry into the matter. He described the raid and the FBI's interest in the commission as "hurtful."

"I have not received any complaints or information that would lead me to believe that any investigators were involved with extortion or conspiracy, especially at the federal level," Weatherwax said. "It's very vague and muddy and I can't say anything because I don't know."

The Liquor Commission is responsible for licensing more than 1,500 bars, restaurants, wholesalers and retailers that serve liquor. It also investigates possible liquor law violations, such as selling liquor to minors or gambling, prostitution and drug use in bars and nightclubs.

The commission has 16 inspectors, 12 of whom work at night.

The FBI questioned all 16 inspectors last Tuesday, focusing their inquiry on four clubs: Porky's, The Ocean Club, Club Miyagi (formerly Sin City) and Volcano's, Weatherwax said. During the raid the FBI requested time sheets, citation records, work statistics and other documentation.

In May 2002, eight inspectors and supervisors were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that include accepting cash bribes ranging from $40 to $1,080 to overlook violations at 45 hostess and strip bars between October 2000 and December 2001.

Six pleaded guilty and the other two were found guilty at trial. In August 2004, former inspector Collin Oshiro, 34, of 'Aiea, was sentenced to 22 months in prison. A month earlier William B. Richardson Jr., 50, was sentenced to 20 months and fined $10,000.

Six other defendants are awaiting sentencing.

After the 2002 indictments, the commission promised stronger supervision of inspectors and stricter hiring policies.

Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com