Hawaii bankruptcies still active years later
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Jim Dooley
It's been almost 10 years since Sukamto Sia, the high-rolling former Honolulu bank owner and real estate dealer, filed a $300 million personal bankruptcy case — and it still hasn't been resolved.
Sia's case is not the oldest bankruptcy pending in Hawai'i. A computer search of court dockets showed that there are 22 open cases filed between 1992 and 2000, involving hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid debts.
Several of the bankruptcies generated financial and social shockwaves when they were filed. Sia's case was notable because of his flamboyant lifestyle and the related financial collapse of the Bank of Honolulu.
The old cases, while still unresolved, have dwindled away to obscurity.
As they drag out there is "less money ... to pay creditors," bankruptcy attorney Dawn Smith said. "Usually there are administrative expenses that have to be paid to attorneys, accountants, appraisers and so forth."
Those expenditures can result in recovery of money owed to the bankrupt estate and later distributed to creditors, but Smith noted that for creditors "waiting years and years for payment means they've lost the use of that money and interest it could have been earning."
The oldest active case is the 1992 Hamakua Sugar bankruptcy, in which one of the largest sugar plantations in Hawai'i closed its doors, throwing some 700 employees out of work and idling cultivation of some 35,000 acres of land on the Big Island. The bankruptcy case was first closed in 1999 but reopened in 2004 to deal with a $36,000 fuel rebate apparently owed to the bankrupt estate. That collection issue is unresolved.
According to paperwork filed when the case was reopened, even if the money is collected, it won't come close to paying all the bills in the case.
"The total amount of unpaid administrative (expenses) in this case is $1.2 million," the Office of the U.S. Trustee reported. "There are over 1,200 administrative claimants comprised of government agencies, former employees, landlords, professionals, and others."
The oldest personal bankruptcy case still active here is that of Marlene Lindsey, sister of former Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate trustee Lokelani Lindsey.
The sisters were convicted in 2002 of federal money-laundering and tax charges connected to Marlene Lindsey's bankruptcy case. The bankruptcy remains open while Lokelani Lindsey, who once collected $1 million per year from the Bishop Estate and was one of the most powerful and controversial women in Hawai'i, makes $300 monthly restitution payments to her sister's bankrupt estate.
As of July 31, she had managed to pay $5,000 of the $35,000 she was ordered to repay in 2002.
Other cases include that of Mahalo Air, the startup interisland air carrier that launched service here in 1993 and shut its doors with a 1997 bankruptcy filing that is still active.
The financial failure of Gray Line Hawaii Ltd., the state's third-largest tour bus company, which shut its doors in 1997, is also generating paperwork in Bankruptcy Court.
In the Sia case, a lot has happened to the Indonesian-born businessman since he filed the bankruptcy action in 1998, listing among his debts tens of millions of dollars owed to gambling casinos in Las Vegas, London and Asia.
He was convicted in 2002 of bank and bankruptcy fraud related to the financial collapse and federal takeover of the Bank of Honolulu. He served three years in federal prison and was deported and forbidden ever to return to the United States.
Just a few months ago, he married Kelly Randall, who was his co-defendant in the fraud case, in a lavish wedding at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco.
A few friends from Honolulu attended the July nuptials, including state Senate vice president Donna Mercado Kim and Waikiki's "Ambassador of Aloha," entertainer Danny Kaleikini, according to news accounts of the event.
Attempts to reach Kim, Kaleikini and Linda Wong, another Honolulu friend of Sia's who attended the Monaco wedding, were unsuccessful.
Sia and Randall could not be reached. Sia's local bankruptcy attorney, Noah Fiddler, did not return telephone calls for comment.
Sia still owes more than $200 million to creditors around the world. Randall owes more than $1 million because of a series of transfers of assets Sia made to her, according to documents in the case.
Some creditors wonder where the money came from for the European wedding.
"I don't doubt there are still millions dollars out there which were never found," said Paul Alston, local attorney for an Asian bank owed more than $4 million.
The largest single creditor in the case is CommerzBank (Southeast Asia), which is owed some $41 million, according to case records.
According to accounts of the wedding published in two Singapore-based magazines, it was an exclusive and expensive affair.
Guido Giacometti, the court-appointed private trustee in charge of the Sia bankruptcy case, said he believes it will be closed in the next few months.
"We found all the pockets (of money) that we could," he said.
The Office of the U.S. Trustee, an arm of the Justice Department that oversees the administration of bankruptcy cases, stresses the need to close cases as quickly as possible, Giacometti said.
"We stay in close touch with the office," Giacometti said. "There are cases like this one which stretch out over years and I think the U.S. Trustee's office understands that."
He added: "This was a very complex case with international aspects and with connections to criminal proceedings. Next year it will be 10 years since the case was filed and I'm as anxious to close it as anyone else involved."
Carol Muranaka, assistant U.S. trustee in charge of the Hawai'i office, declined comment, referring questions to Steven Katzman, head of the U.S. Trustee's regional office in San Diego.
Katzman, who oversees bankruptcy administration in Southern California, Hawai'i, Guam and Saipan, was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
Reach Jim Dooley at firstname.lastname@example.org.