Thief linked to 2 city workers
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
A woman who stole about $250,000 in city parking lot revenues had "inappropriate" relationships with two midlevel city employees who supervised municipal parking lot operations, according to court records.
Gale Bracey, 39, quit as the supervisor at one city-owned downtown parking garage in 2006 because her employer, Republic Parking, suspected her of stealing money, according to court documents and prosecutors.
Less than six months later, according to grand jury testimony in the case, Bracey was back at work at the same lot, and stealing about $15,000 per month, after a city employee suggested that she be hired by the new lot operator.
Bracey pleaded guilty earlier this month to four counts of first-degree theft and two counts of money laundering, felonies that were committed when she worked at city parking lots for Republic and Standard between August 2004 and May 2007.
Standard Parking executive Michael Miller testified that when he was preparing to bid for the contract to operate the city's Hale Pauahi parking concession in June 2006, an employee in the city's Department of Facility Maintenance, Alan Torikawa, told Miller that hiring Bracey would help Standard's chances of landing the contract.
"Mr. Torikawa says if Standard puts her in charge of Hale Pauahi, that would weigh in Standard's favor in terms of getting the contract," Miller testified before a grand jury.
So Bracey was hired by Standard and the company got the contract, even though it was the highest bidder for the job, according to records in the case.
Torikawa, who was not charged with a crime, could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Howard Luke, said Torikawa was innocent of wrongdoing.
Myles Breiner, lawyer for Bracey, said Torikawa and Glen Maeda, another city employee implicated in the case, "took the Fifth Amendment" and refused to cooperate in the investigation.
Maeda did not respond to a request for comment.
Torikawa no longer works for the city but Maeda is still employed at the Department of Facility Maintenance.
Facility Maintenance Director Jeoffrey Cudiamat said in a written statement yesterday that the city has made changes in its parking lot operations to improve revenue collections and tighten financial oversight of contractors.
Maeda was an acting branch chief in the department but is no longer in that position, Cudiamat said.
"The city has cooperated fully every step of the way with the Honolulu Police Department and the prosecuting attorney's office," said Cudiamat.
"The city also conducted its own internal investigation regarding personnel no longer with the city," the statement continued.
"We note the case is still open, and if evidence of current employee criminal activity exists, we don't have it," said Cudiamat.
The investigation that resulted in Bracey's guilty pleas began after a new parking lot supervisor noticed big differences in parking revenue figures when Bracey was on and off the job. In October 2006, the supervisor reported her suspicions to the prosecutor's office, which referred her to Honolulu police.
Bracey refused to cooperate with police and prosecutors "and would not testify against her friends," Breiner said.
"Her testimony could have been very troublesome to the city," Breiner said.
But court records, including the grand jury transcript, contain a wealth of detail about Bracey's activities and her relationship with the two city employees.
The transcript was attached to a motion that defense attorney Breiner filed in the case.
In the plea agreement reached with prosecutors, Bracey will not receive jail time and has agreed to pay as much as $250,000 in restitution.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Van Marter said this week that the investigation is "still open."
A co-worker of Torikawa and Maeda at the Department of Facilities Management, Diem Nakasone, testified before a grand jury last year that Torikawa and Maeda were friends of Bracey's and steered the Hale Pauahi work to Standard Parking.
At Torikawa's suggestion, the city changed the contract award standard from one based solely on price to one that included more subjective factors such as experience, Nakasone testified.
Maeda, a supervisor of Torikawa and Nakasone, agreed to the changes, Nakasone testified.
When Torikawa and Maeda tallied the qualifications of bidders, "they would compare their scores and I guess try to sway toward Standard Parking," Nakasone testified.
Torikawa and Maeda were friends of Bracey and "they wanted her to be hired or work at the garage," Nakasone said.
She described the relationship the men had with Bracey as "inappropriate."
"They weren't professional and their relationship would be more friendly or maybe even in a sexual tone," Nakasone testified.
The men would discuss "surgical procedures," including breast augmentation and liposuction, that Bracey had undergone, Nakasone testified.
Breiner said Bracey was "friends" with Torikawa and Maeda but the friendship "was not sexual in nature."
Van Marter said this week the investigation showed that "if the city had followed the rules, Standard would never have been awarded the contract. Certain mid-level city officials didn't follow the law," Van Marter said.
"Their behavior was highly suspicious," he said. The grand jury testimony, he said, showed that officials "manipulated the process to put (Bracey) back in charge. She was stealing $15,000 a month after she was rehired."
Bracey, who now uses the last name Bethune, lives in Japan with her husband and child. She is scheduled to return here in August for sentencing.
Bracey is asking the court to accept a deferred plea of guilty to the six felony charges, which would result in erasure of her criminal record if she stays arrest-free and pays restitution within five years.
Van Marter said his office will "absolutely oppose" the deferral request.
Exactly how much money Bracey will be required to pay in restitution has not been determined yet. Van Marter estimates the losses total at least $250,000 but acknowledged that precise figures are unavailable because cash was stolen and records kept by the companies and the city were incomplete.
Breiner said the final figure could be much lower than $250,000.
How Bracey will repay the money is unclear. She completed personal bankruptcy proceedings in mid-2008 and reported minimal financial assets at that time.
A business Bracey operated in 'Ewa Beach called Heaven Scent Massage Clinic has since gone out of business.
While she was working at the city parking lot, Bracey was a "lavish spender" who owned and drove several cars, including a Mercedes Benz, and wore "nice clothes, nice jewelry," a police detective testified before the grand jury.
The Bracey case is the second in recent years to involve allegations of favoritism and inappropriate friendship between city contractors and officials in the Department of Facility Maintenance.
Nelson Aguinaldo, owner of a janitorial firm, was close friends with a midlevel city official involved in the award of five city contracts to Aguinaldo's company.
Aguinaldo was charged in 2006 with four felony theft counts, racketeering and money laundering. The case was closed in 2008 when Aguinaldo entered a deferred guilty plea to one felony theft charge and payment of $64,060 in restitution.
Aguinaldo's friend in DFM was never charged with a crime.