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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rod Tam should be prosecuted for theft

Honolulu City Councilman Rod Tam's daffy antics have made him a punchline for so long that it's difficult to look at him with anything but amusement.

Remember the infamous "naps and snacks" he wanted to mandate for hardworking state employees? Or when he repeatedly called illegal workers "wetbacks" until someone had to tell him it wasn't a compliment?

But Tam has now made the leap from buffoonery to thievery, so it's time to stop laughing and start prosecuting.

The report by the Honolulu Ethics Commission makes clear that Tam has for years made a habit of using taxpayer money to pay for his meals and meals for friends and family members.

It gets worse. Tam lied about who he dined with, falsified receipts to inflate the cost of meals and concocted phony stories about meeting with constituents and discussing "city business" when he was actually taking family members out to eat. We even paid for his wife's $88 Valentine's Day dinner at Kabuki.

He also failed to include on his annual disclosure forms his financial interests in 10 businesses and nonprofits from 2001 through 2008, resulting in 39 separate violations, according to the ethics commission investigation.

His defense? "I forgot."

The report is a troubling portrait of a self-important, devious and dishonest politician whose nonstop nickel-and-diming of taxpayers for his meals borders on compulsion.

Doesn't he ever eat at home?

Council members can charge legitimate expenses to a fund called the Annual Contingency Allowance and each member gets about $18,000 a year.

Tam outspent them all, hitting up the city for $22,000 for meals over four years. The ethics invesigation found that at least $10,000 went to pay for meals that were of questionable relevance to his official duties.

In 90 cases, Tam submitted the tear-away bottom portion of the meal receipt and filled in the amount. Reviewing 28 of the receipts, investigators went back to the restaurants and determined that in 26 cases Tam had filled out the receipt for more than the cost of the meal, resulting in a profit of $1,000.

Sounds like stealing to us.

Tam is forced by term limits out of his Council seat this year and considering that he doesn't believe he did anything wrong, it's a waste of time to try to push him out or get him to resign.

The ethics case should scuttle Tam's desperate effort to cling to office by running for mayor.

This, we hope, marks the end of Tam's comical political career, but his agreement to pay $13,700 to reimburse the city and accept the ethics commission fine should not be the end of the case.

The attorney general should pursue criminal theft charges against Tam.

Tam is the rare defendant who could persuasively argue ignorance as a legitimate defense, but we're confident prosecutors can still get a conviction.

People working in private industry know that handing in a phony expense receipt is a fireable offense.

Public officials should be looking at jail time.