Politician petitions for drug smuggler
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Jim Dooley
Former state Sen. Malama Solomon, last year's Democratic Party candidate for lieutenant governor, appeared in court yesterday to support a Big Island man convicted in a major drug trafficking operation that used cattle containers to smuggle methamphetamine and money in and out of Hawai'i.
Solomon said in a letter submitted to U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright that the defendant, Shawn Aguiar, is "of critical importance" to the continued survival of cattle shipper American Pacific International Inc.
Solomon was among some 100 family members and friends who appeared in court to support Aguiar.
Seabright sentenced Aguiar to seven years in federal prison, noting that AmPac will have to find someone to replace him while he is behind bars.
Aguiar admitted to smuggling 45 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, or "ice," into the state from 2002 to 2005. A codefendant, Big Island cattle rancher Audwin Aiwohi, admitted to smuggling 83 pounds of ice here. Aiwohi was sentenced earlier to more than eight years in prison.
Aguiar's lawyer, Brook Hart, pointed out that his client had cooperated fully with investigators after he was arrested, even traveling at his own expense to California to meet with the alleged Mainland supplier, Eric Castro.
Castro, also charged in the case, is a fugitive.
Hart said Aguiar has no previous criminal record, is not a drug user, and worked hard since his arrest to show his remorse and to help in the war against drugs.
He helped to pave a road leading to the Marimed Foundation drug treatment facility on the Big Island, Hart said.
And as general manager of AmPac, Aguiar is expected to take control of the firm when his father, Gene Aguiar, retires, Hart said.
Solomon said in her letter that AmPac has been a leader for the past 15 years in securing market stability and good prices for Hawaiian-grown beef.
"The only assurance we, the Hawaiian ranchers, have of continuing with the stable market is AmPac. They have had the highest prices for 15 years," Solomon said in her letter.
"With my knowledge of AmPac's operations and personnel I do not feel that they can survive very long without Shawn's involvement," the letter continued.
"The loss of AmPac would be financially devastating to the 400-plus ranchers they service," Solomon wrote.
Aguiar apologized to his family and supporters and to Seabright.
"I chose a bad group of friends," he said. "I forgot about the law.
"I am deeply remorseful for what I've done. I'm not a bad person. I'm not a criminal. I did criminal acts," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Thomas told the judge that Aguiar was a partner in a "sophisticated" drug ring that is believed to have smuggled more than 150 pounds of methamphetamine into the state. "In one month in 2005, Mr. Aguiar had $100,000 to $200,000 in his possession to purchase drugs." Thomas said. "That's a lot of money."
Seabright ordered Aguiar to begin serving his prison term April 24.
Reach Jim Dooley at email@example.com.