Four plead guilty in 2004 Pali shooting
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Jim Dooley
Literally on the eve of trial, four men pleaded guilty yesterday to federal charges including racketeering and murder related to a violent shooting at Pali Golf Course in January 2004 that fatally wounded two men and critically injured another.
Two Leeward Coast men, Rodney Joseph Jr. and Kevin "Pancho" Gonsalves, admitted killing one of the victims, Romilius Corpuz, 40, and each faces a sentence of 27 1/2 years in prison.
Another defendant, Ethan Motta, admitted killing Lepo Utu Taliese, 44, and trying to murder another man, Tinoimalu Sao, 42, by shooting him in the head. Sao recovered from his wounds. Motta, who is from the Big Island, faces 20 to 27 1/2 years in prison when he is sentenced May 27 by U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway.
And in a final court hearing that didn't conclude until early evening, mainland China immigrant Kai Ming Wang, 42, pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge and faces a likely sentence of two to three years in prison, his lawyer, William Harrison, said after the hearing.
The midday violence in the parking lot of the city-run municipal golf course was rooted in a dispute between two factions of "security personnel" who provided protection services to illegal gambling casinos bankrolled by Wang.
In entering his guilty plea, Wang, a very slight man, told Mollway through an interpreter that he and friends of his "put money together and started a game so that everybody would have a job."
Wang came to Hawai'i in 1994 and worked in a series of restaurant jobs and began frequenting illegal gambling parlors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Brady told Mollway.
Wang eventually began working in the casinos as a dealer, and then he and a group of other investors put up $7,000 to $8,000 apiece to start their own illicit casino on Young Street, Brady said.
But problems arose from operators and security guards affiliated with competing operations, who began making threats against the Wang group, Brady said.
ACTED AFTER BEATING
After Wang was severely beaten "with a metal rod" by a masked man at Ala Moana Center, he hired his own security personnel, Brady said. One of the guards took Wang to the Big Island to meet with Motta, who promised to protect Wang's operation from the competition, according to Brady and testimony from Wang himself.
Joseph, an accomplished martial artist and boxer, also was hired to help with security and ultimately was paid $10,000 per month, according to Brady.
Wang's security personnel then broke up into different factions and violence erupted after members of the two groups encountered each other at a Windward funeral on Jan. 7, 2004.
Joseph, Motta and Gonsalves agreed to meet after the funeral with members of the other group, including Taliese, Sao and Corpuz, in the golf course parking lot to discuss their differences.
The meeting ended in gunfire.
Motta told Mollway that he hadn't intended to kill Taliese.
"I overreacted to the situation, your honor," Motta said. "I shot Mr. Taliese. I take the responsibility."
He also admitted shooting Sao in the head with a .22-caliber handgun.
Joseph, Motta and Gonsalves have been held without bail since shortly after the shootings. The three were originally charged with murder and other offenses in state court but those charges were dismissed last month.
Wang was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2006 and had been held without bail since then. He was not charged with any violent crimes, although his co-defendants engaged in robbery, extortion, assaults and ultimately murder to protect Wang's gambling games and their connections to them, according to court records.
"I know now that it was illegal to do a business like this," Wang said in court, speaking in Mandarin Chinese.
"But the game room was peaceful and it was making money," he said.
Brady and Harrison both said Wang has cooperated extensively with investigators. The government will recommend a "substantial downward departure" in his prison sentence, Brady said.
Trial in the case was scheduled to begin with jury selection this morning. About 800 prospective jurors had been summoned to appear in court for possible service in the trial and Mollway wanted to conclude the change-of-plea hearings for all the defendants last night.
For that reason, the hearings stretched into the evening and ended after 7 p.m. when Mollway accepted Wang's guilty plea.
Reach Jim Dooley at email@example.com.