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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 30, 2007

Hawaii governor's chief of staff resigns

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By Peter Boylan and Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writers

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Bob Awana

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Bob Awana, Gov. Linda Lingle's chief of staff, resigned amid controversy surrounding his alleged role in a Saipan public corruption investigation and an alleged extortion attempt against him.

In a news release yesterday, Lingle said she and Awana met Thursday and "mutually concluded it was in the best interest of all that he resign his position effective immediately."

"It is with deep personal and professional regret that I make this statement," Lingle said.

As chief of staff, Awana was the most influential member of Lingle's administration, serving as the point person on major management and political issues. He was also her campaign manager during last year's election. He did not return calls yesterday.

In the past month, two legal cases involving Awana made headlines.

In the first case, Awana was the alleged victim of an extortion attempt by an Indian national who is now in federal custody.

Rajdatta Patkar, a 44-year-old native of Mumbai, India, now living in Tokyo, attempted to extort $35,000 from Awana in 2005, according to a March 2006 federal grand jury indictment.

Patkar, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, allegedly threatened to expose an extra-marital affair Awana had with a woman in the Philippines, according to people with knowledge of the investigation who declined to be named, citing an ongoing criminal proceeding.

Patkar learned of the affair after finding e-mails Awana allegedly sent to the woman, the people said.

Awana said he immediately notified federal law enforcement officials after the alleged extortion attempt and informed Lingle.

The details of the alleged extortion attempt would be made public if Patkar's case goes to trial, but Patkar could avoid a trial with a plea agreement.

Yesterday, Patkar's attorney, Pamela Byrne of the Office of the Federal Public Defender, filed a motion to withdraw his not guilty plea and asked that Patkar be able to enter a new plea. A hearing on the motion before federal Judge Michael Seabright is scheduled for Friday.

Awana is involved in a second controversy involving a lucrative contract to operate a landfill in Saipan.

In 2002, the Republican governor of Saipan awarded a company owned in part by Awana a $9.9 million contract to operate a new landfill. After the Republican governor was replaced by a Democrat in 2005, the contract was canceled.

A member of the Democratic governor's Cabinet said the contract given by the Republican governor was too expensive, according to the Saipan Tribune newspaper.

The awarding of the contract is the subject of an ongoing federal public corruption probe. Awana was questioned by federal investigators last year in the case.

Awana, who owns a 16 percent stake in the Saipan venture, has denied wrongdoing.

Investigators with the inspector general's office of the U.S. Justice Department have asked Awana if Saipan Waste Management bribed Saipan officials to get the landfill contract.

Last year, the FBI requested records from the Commonwealth Election Commission in Saipan relating to political donations to Juan Babauta, the former Republican governor of Saipan, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Awana said Justice Department investigators confiscated and reviewed his personal financial statements as well as those of the company.

Justice Department investigators also asked about a cash account kept by the company that Awana said was used for business trips and entertainment for company executives. Investigators wanted to know how much was given to elected officials in Saipan, Awana said.

Correction: Bob Awana, Gov. Linda Lingle's former chief of staff, was her campaign manager during last year's election. The information was omitted from a previous version of this story.

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com and Rick Daysog at rdaysog@honoluluadvertiser.com.