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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 15, 2008

Alema Leota dies at age 80

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Alema Leota

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Alema Leota took an oath after filing his nomination papers for the governor's race in 1978. He'd previously been indicated by authorities to be the head of Hawai'i organized crime.

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The long and colorful life of Alema Leota is over.

Leota, 80, died May 11 in Everett, Wash., from injuries suffered in a Dec. 25, 2007, automobile accident.

He was repeatedly identified by federal and state authorities in the late 1960s and early 1970s as head of Hawai'i organized crime. He was acquitted of related federal tax conspiracy charges in 1974. A few years later, Leota famously mounted an unsuccessful campaign to be elected governor as a nonpartisan candidate.

In that campaign, he denied charges of organized crime membership as "a crock" and said organized crime could not exist without the tacit cooperation of government.

Leota received only 277 votes in the primary election but that was enough to move him into the general election. He campaigned as the candidate of change, but lost badly to incumbent Gov. George Ariyoshi.

"He was well loved by his family we had an overwhelming love for him," his niece Lee Duque said yesterday.

"He was a very smart, softspoken man who commanded a great deal of respect," she said.

"Everything he said made a lot of sense and it was often very funny," Duque said.

Leota was born and raised in La'ie, the son of Aivao and Matala Leota, who were among the first Samoan immigrants to settle in Hawai'i after converting to the Mormon faith in 1919.

He attended Kahuku High School and later graduated from 'Iolani School.

Leota was included in the final military draft conducted after World War II, serving three years in the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, N.C., and completing 40 parachute missions.

The first newspaper coverage he received was when he was arrested by Honolulu police in 1952, with his brother, Reid, on charges of murdering a man in a Smith Street pool hall. He was later convicted of assault in that case. His brother was convicted of murder.

The last newspaper story about Leota was four years ago when he helped officiate at a family reunion of the Leota clan.

Some 700 family members converged from as far away as England and New Zealand to celebrate the legacies of Aivao and Matala Leota.

As the last surviving child of the couple, Alema Leota was the "patriarch of the family," Duque said.

"He always made time for the family," she said.

Leota is survived by his longtime companion, Ann Lyons; son, Frank Minami; one granddaughter and two great-granddaughters; and many nieces and nephews.

Funeral services are scheduled for May 23 at the LDS La'ie North Stake Center.

Visitation will begin at 9 a.m. Services at 11 a.m.

Burial will be at La'ie Cemetery.

Reach Jim Dooley at jdooley@honoluluadvertiser.com.