Naone pleads guilty to extortion of nightclubs
By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer
By Ken Kobayashi
The former longtime head of Aloha Stadium security yesterday became the first major defendant to plead guilty among dozens charged in a massive two-year FBI investigation.
Herbert Naone Jr., who has been described by the FBI as holding a "prominent position in Hawai'i's organized crime and narcotics trafficking underworld," pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to extort two nightclubs in 2004 and 2005.
He admitted receiving cash from the nightclubs in exchange for providing information about Honolulu Liquor Commission inspections and allowing them to operate in violation of liquor laws.
"I did receive money for that," Naone told U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren.
As part of a plea agreement, Naone agreed to cooperate with federal authorities and testify at trials or before grand juries.
Naone's conspiracy charge carries a prison term of up to 20 years, but his lawyer Christopher Evans said he will seek probation for his client when Naone is scheduled to appear before U.S. District Judge David Ezra for sentencing Feb. 5.
Assistant U.S. attorney Florence Nakakuni declined to comment.
Naone, 57, the security head of state-owned Aloha Stadium during the conspiracy, first went on paid vacation and sick leave following the indictment in mid-April. He retired Sept. 1 from the job he had held for 18 years.
Naone is among more than 35 people charged in a series of indictments in April following an FBI investigation that included wiretaps on phones; a phone belonging to Naone was among those tapped. The indictments include gambling, cockfighting, drug, firearm and the conspiracy extortion charges.
James Rodenhurst, a supervisory Honolulu Liquor Commission inspector, is also charged with a conspiracy to extort the owner of the nightclubs. He and Naone are the only two charged in the conspiracy/extortion indictment.
Those named in other indictments include five Honolulu police officers and a former secretary/clerk with the FBI's Honolulu office.
They have all pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. Rodenhurst's trial is scheduled for next month.
During Naone's hearing, prosecutor Nakakuni said Naone conspired with Rodenhurst to extort the Volcanoes Night Club on Nimitz Highway and Sin City in Pearl City.
Naone also admitted that he threatened to shut down the nightclubs or send liquor inspectors there if he and Rodenhurst did not get paid.
Naone admitted that in October 2004, he told Rodenhurst that Sin City wanted to "go renegade" or serve liquor that weekend beyond the permitted business hours. Rodenhurst replied, "Tell 'em to send money down," according to Naone.
Nakakuni said Naone was given $500 a week and gave money to Rodenhurst "on a couple of occasions."
She said the government's case was based largely on circumstantial evidence and wiretapped conversations. Rodenhurst's phone was among at least 10 that were wiretapped.
In seeking the wiretaps, FBI agents submitted affidavits filed in federal court describing Naone as holding a "prominent position" in organized crime and narcotics trafficking and saying he used his connections in government and law enforcement to help him and others evade prosecution.
Naone was fired as a police officer in the mid-1970s after he and two other officers were charged with a shotgun robbery of a Kaua'i gambling game. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of theft and was fined $5,000, but was given a chance to have the charge dropped if he stayed out of trouble for five years. The charge was later erased.
Naone declined to comment after yesterday's hearing, but Evans said his client was "accepting responsibility" by pleading guilty.
Evans disputed the allegations in the FBI affidavits. "There was no tie to organized crime, period," Evans said.
The defense lawyer said he believes Naone's work for security and law enforcement will be brought out at sentencing.
Evans said as far as he is concerned, Naone does not have a criminal record, a reference to the dismissal of the Kaua'i theft charge.
Evans said he wanted to assure the public that there was no relationship between the extortion case and Naone's job as stadium security chief. "There was never any incident at Aloha Stadium under his watch," Evans said.
Patrick Leonard, spokesman for the Aloha Stadium Authority, said he was not agreeing or disagreeing with Evans' assessment, but said, "We conducted our own internal investigation and found that Mr. Naone did not engage in any of the activities contained in the original indictment during working hours."
Naone's position as stadium security chief was cited by the FBI as justification for the wiretaps.
According to sworn FBI affidavits filed in connection with the case, Naone sometimes used his Aloha Stadium work telephone to pursue illegal activities with Rodenhurst and others.
In June 2004, Naone used the phone at 4:37 p.m. to warn the Volcanoes owner about an impending Liquor Commission inspection and then met at the stadium with the owner about an hour later, according to one FBI affidavit.
In November 2004, Naone used his work phone at 7:36 p.m. to arrange an evening meeting at the stadium with Rodenhurst. The meeting concerned efforts to illegally obtain a commercial driver's license for an associate of Naone, according to the FBI.
The FBI affidavits also said that at one point Naone arranged to meet Rodenhurst at Aloha Stadium after a high school football game to split a $1,600 extortion payment from the owner of the bars.Staff writer Jim Dooley contributed to this report.
Reach Ken Kobayashi at firstname.lastname@example.org.