Murder for hire, nepotism and lavish spending are central plots in a recent whistleblower lawsuit filed against the top administrator of one of Honolulu’s labor unions.
The allegations, which also include ethnic slurs, come one year after a change in leadership at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1260.
The case offers a glimpse into the usually hidden world of union operations and reads like a B-movie Hollywood script. A top union official says he was fired after he refused to kill other union members who were critical of his boss.
The lawsuit was filed last week by Thomas Decano Jr., who says he was wrongfully terminated by Brian Ahakuelo, IBEW’s new business manager and financial secretary. Local 1260 represents more than 3,100 workers throughout Hawaii and Guam.
Decano, who has his own criminal record, said he was fired by Ahakuelo after Decano refused to beat up or kill union members who had been posting critical messages about Akakeulo on Facebook. Among the accusations are that Ahakuelo spent union funds to hire his wife as a secretary, buy new vehicles and take exorbitant trips around the U.S. territories and Canada.
The Honolulu Police Department confirmed Monday there is an ongoing investigation of Ahakuelo for solicitation to commit murder.
Ahakuelo has been a member of the IBEW for more than 30 years. He was elected as the Local 1260’s business manager and financial secretary in summer 2011, beating out incumbent Lancy Miyake.
On Monday, Ahakuelo called the lawsuit a complete fabrication, and nothing more than “dirty politics.”
“People know me and they know that that’s just not me,” Ahakuelo told Civil Beat. “It’s totally untrue. It’s a disgruntled former employee of mine, who I terminated because he wasn’t representing the membership in their best interest.”
Decano’s attorney, Venetia Carpenter-Asui, characterizes it differently. She said the allegations are “nasty” because they involve claims that Ahakuelo ordered hits on union members for speaking out on Facebook about how their dues were being spent.
“It’s horrible what they were doing with this lavish spending,” Carpenter-Asui said. “Every dollar needs to be accounted for. This is members’ money. It’s not (Ahakuelo’s) money to go spending willly nilly.”
It’s not the first time Decano has sued an employer for wrongful termination. According to news reports, Decano lodged a wrongful termination complaint against a Snohomish County, Wash., fire district where he was a deputy chief.
Decano was also one of three Honolulu police officers who was arrested in 1975 for robbing a gambling operation on Kauai. He was also indicted in 1997 by the U.S. government for being in possession of more than $43,000 that had been stolen from the mail.
In the lawsuit, Decano alleges union members were upset with Ahakuelo for hiring his wife as a $70,000-per-year secretary, paying himself $1,000 a month to drive his own car and selling IBEW vehicles and keeping the money for himself. Several of these individuals began posting comments on their Facebook pages, at which point Ahakuelo became “furious” because they were being “disloyal to him as their leader.”
One person Ahakuelo was particularly upset with was a Randall Tamashiro, a union member he suspected of filing an OSHA complaint against IBEW. The lawsuit alleged Ahakuelo then propositioned Decano to kill Tamashiro during a July 2011 meeting.
According to the complaint, that exchange, which was not recorded, involved a back-and-forth between Ahakuelo and Decano about Tamashiro’s future.
Decano contends Ahakuelo wanted him to get rid of Tamashiro, either “send him to the hospital or make him disappear!”
Decano: “What do you mean make him disappear?”
Ahakuelo: “Kill da fuckin Jap!”
The complaint says Ahakuelo then told Decano that Tamashiro lived in Hawaii Kai and that Ahakuelo’s wife could get him an address. When Decano left the room Ahakuelo’s wife, Marilyn, “immediately handed (Decano) a piece of paper with Union Member Tamashiro’s home address handwritten on it.”
Over the next couple months, Ahakuelo “became angrier and angrier” about Tamashiro and continued to make comments about him as well as Decano’s failure to “hurt” or “kill” Tamashiro.
The lawsuit said Ahakuelo was also mad at other IBEW staff and board members after questioning him about his expenditures, and that he would use racial epithets to refer to their Japanese ethnicity.
Decano contends that Ahakuelo even told him he’d provide money to kill the people he didn’t like.
The lawsuit alleged Ahakuelo ignored Decano’s protestations, and then gave him a list of six people he wanted “taken care of.” Those individuals included, Tamashiro, former Local 1260 Business Manager Lance Miyake, Executive Board Member Margie Yasui, and Maui union members Donna Yamamoto, Jeffrey Chong and Christopher Cunkleman.
On March 25, Ahakuelo fired Decano saying his work performance over the past nine months had been “dismal.” The firing came two months after Decano was given a raise that bumped his salary from $117,000 to $132,000, according to the lawsuit.
Two days later, an IBEW staff attorney Decano had confided in, Teresa Morrison, resigned, and on May 14 the “Solicitation to Commit Murder” case was opened by the Honolulu Police Department.
On May 23, the lawsuit alleges, Ahakuelo began trying to discredit Decano, saying he was “smuggling drugs from the Philippine Islands to Guam.” Ahakuelo also told IBEW’s Executive Board members “if any of you collaborates with Tommy Decano or his lawyer, I will have charges filed against you.”
According to the lawsuit, the IBEW Executive Board decided it wanted to have an outside audit performed due to Ahakuelo’s “lavish spending.” Among the expenses listed in the lawsuit are, new office furniture, five new automobiles, and air fare to Canada, Guam, Washington D.C., Kansas, Oregon.
The lawsuit seeks damages for wrongful termination, defamation and the infliction of emotional distress. No dollar amount is attached to the complaint.
Blake Okimoto, an attorney representing Ahakuelo and IBEW, gave Civil Beat copies of letters Decano’s attorney sent before filing the lawsuit. In a May 11 demand letter Carpeter-Asui said Decano would drop the case if he were paid four years worth of wages in addition to his back pay from the date he was fired. He also asked for $523.56 for attorneys fees.
On May 24, Okimoto countered, saying he wanted an immediate retraction of the “false allegations.” Okimoto also noted the curious timing of the May 11 demand letter and May 14 initiation of an HPD investigation.
“The fact that these claims are made at this late stage indicates that Mr. Decano’s claims are contrived and manufactured solely for the purposes of advancing Mr. Decano’s unfounded claims,” Okimoto said. “In the event that Mr. Decano does not retract his specious allegations, Mr. Ahakuelo shall pursue all available remedies against him vigorously and immediately to the fullest extent of the law.”