Driver for 'Lost' pleads guilty
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
A longtime Teamsters union member who drives a vehicle on the "Lost" television production here pleaded guilty last week to a felony drug possession offense as well as to a misdemeanor charge of soliciting sex from an undercover police officer.
Reynold Kamekona, 53, was arrested the evening of Oct. 21 on Kukui Street after he offered to pay the female officer $50 for oral sex, according to police reports. A plastic bag of crystal methamphetamine was found in his pocket.
He pleaded guilty to third-degree possession of a dangerous drug and the soliciting charge before Circuit Judge Richard Pollack, who set sentencing for March 17.
Two hours after Kamekona entered his plea, Teamsters film and television driver Philip Asiata, who has worked for the "Lost" series part time, appeared before Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario to answer drug charges pending against him.
Asiata, who has a criminal record of more than 125 arrests and 52 convictions, pleaded not guilty.
Erin Felentzer, ABC television spokeswoman for "Lost," did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Teamsters drivers hired for film, television and commercial productions are well-paid, earning as much as $3,000 a week. They are hired based on an internal union seniority grouping system that gives producers little say in employment matters.
Men with felony records have been working as movie and television drivers in Hawai'i since the 1960s, when the Teamsters "production unit" was first formed by labor patriarch Arthur Rutledge.
Rutledge defended the employment of felons in the unit, saying he was helping the men rehabilitate themselves.
In the Asiata case, Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario found Asiata mentally incompetent for trial and sent him to Hawai'i State Hospital for treatment and evaluation.
An expert who examined Asiata, Dr. Martin Blinder, said in a report to Pollack that Asiata is unfit for trial due to "polysubstance abuse" and an organic brain injury suffered in 1995.
Blinder said Asiata told him that "before the accident, I was a heroin addict and used crack, but I don't do drugs any more. I'm a Teamster."
Asiata claimed that he started drinking heavily after "his driver's license was recently taken from him because of purported deficits in his driving ability," Blinder said in his Dec. 11 report.
Kamekona's criminal record includes felony convictions for auto theft and criminal property damage. He was represented by attorney Michael Green, who has acted as defense counsel for various other Teamsters "production unit" drivers, past and present, including Kamekona's brother, Harlan Bruce Kamekona, who was convicted of federal narcotics trafficking charges in 2000.
Harlan Kamekona received a reduced, nine-year sentence in that case after Reynold Kamekona agreed to testify as a prosecution witness in the federal arson trial of fellow Teamsters film and television driver Joseph "Joe Boy" Tavares.
Tavares was convicted of burning movie equipment trucks, served a lengthy prison sentence and rejoined the union when he was released. He is now driving for a film production on the Mainland.
Reynold Kamekona owns and drives an equipment-hauling truck used on the "Lost" show, which is now in its final season of production.
'A SECOND CHANCE'
Several men identified by law enforcement here as organized-crime figures have worked as drivers for film productions in the past, most notably confessed professional hit man Ronald K. Ching, who was a driver on the "Magnum P.I." television series while simultaneously feeding a $1,000-a-day heroin habit, according to court records.
Now working as Teamster drivers for the "Lost" show are federal parolees John Joseph "Joe" Griffiths Jr. and Douglas Paahao.
Griffiths was convicted in 2002 of federal drug offenses as well as recklessly causing the death of Eric Kamanu, a Käne'ohe bodybuilder who died in 1989.
Griffiths and two other men who later worked as movie drivers were tried in state court on charges of murdering Kamanu, but the case ended in a mistrial.
Paahao was convicted of federal drug charges in 2004.
Griffiths and Paahao are now serving terms of supervised release, the federal term for parole, according to the office of Rich Crawford, chief of the federal Probation Department here.
Green, whose clients have included both Kamekona brothers as well as Griffiths and Paahao, said of their work as Teamsters drivers: "These guys have an opportunity to have really good jobs. They need gainful employment. Thankfully, they have gotten a second chance."
UNDER COURT ORDER
Another driver now working on "Lost" is former Ho- nolulu police officer William Duarte, who was convicted of civil rights violations in 1999 related to the beating of a prisoner in the police cellblock.
Duarte was fired from the police force after serving an eight-month federal prison sentence, but later won his job back in a grievance proceeding. He has since retired from the force.
The Teamsters union nationally has been under a federal court order since 1989 that requires the organization to cooperate with and pay for investigations of ties to organized crime or labor racketeering.
Those probes are carried out by a New York-based three-member panel called the Independent Review Board, which in the past has brought charges against Teamsters members for illegal activities connected to movie and television productions in Florida and Chicago.
The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2008 that then-presidential candidate Barack Obama won the Teamsters' political endorsement after privately telling the union that he supported an end to the decades-long federal oversight.