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Just days after word emerged that state Rep. Romy Cachola had agreed to pay a $50,000 fine over dozens of alleged ethics violations relating to gifts and transportation expenses when he was on the Honolulu City Council, he took aim at former colleagues, arguing that they engaged in similar behavior.
In documents distributed to media outlets on Monday, Cachola accused current council members Ann Kobayashi and Ikaika Anderson, as well as former council members Nestor Garcia, Todd Apo and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, of also violating gift laws. Garcia is now a reporter for KHON and Apo works for Disney’s Aulani resort.
Cachola argues that their supposed ethics violations could invalidate 11 laws and resolutions passed by the City Council between 2006 and 2012, many of which relate to the $5.2 billion Honolulu rail project. If true, the City Council would be left with a messy situation for city attorneys to sort out with possible repercussions for the rail project.
Current and former council members reached by Civil Beat, including Kobayashi, Dela Cruz, Anderson and Garcia, denied knowingly doing anything wrong. Apo didn’t return a call for comment.
“It seems to me that Romy has found himself in a fish bowl and if he is able to bring down more people into the fish bowl to deflect attention from him then he is going to do that,” said Anderson, who described Cachola as “down and bleeding.”
Cachola says he exposed the actions of the other council members to show that Chuck Totto, the ethics commission’s executive director, was unfairly targeting him.
“Mr. Totto and Cachola have had differences in the past,” Cachola writes in a press release. “It appears very suspect that Mr. Totto has chosen to only pursue matters against Cachola.”
But Totto said that the commission had already begun looking into potential ethics violations by other council members, including Kobayashi, that arose during the investigation into Cachola.
“We are in the process of reviewing the allegations that there were other council members who may have accepted unlawful gifts,” Totto told Civil Beat. “We are taking a look at that. We will give the same review (to them) that we gave to Mr. Cachola. But one of the issues with Mr. Cachola is that we received so much information from so many informants and lobbyists. I can’t say we received that type of information regarding other council members.”
Cachola has denied any violation of the city’s ethics laws and his recent settlement doesn’t constitute an admission of guilt. Still, Totto described the case as “a perfect storm of corruption,” in a news release announcing the settlement this weekend.
Lobbyist expense reports indicate that Cachola received more than 100 gifts from them, including pricey meals, wine and golf outings, according to the commission, with many of the gifts exceeding the $200 limit. Meanwhile, Cachola failed to disclose the gifts before voting on about 100 bills and resolutions related to rail, construction projects and rezoning that came before the commission between 2008 and 2012, according to details of the settlement.
Cachola says that other council members were present at some of the same meals, which were paid for by lobbyists for James Campbell Co. and its development arm, Aina Nui Corp, as well as Pacific Resource Partnership.
For instance, David Rae, a vice president at James Campbell Co., took Cachola, Dela Cruz and Kobayashi out to the Four Seasons on March 4, 2007. The bill for the three council members totaled almost $300, according to documents supplied by Cachola. Michael Green, an attorney for Cachola, says that the figures were taken from ethics commission documents turned over to Cachola during the investigation.
Two days later, Rae took the same council members, as well as Apo, out to a second meal at Oceanaire, according to the documents. Cachola, Dela Cruz and Kobayashi had expenses totaling $202.04 each, while Apo’s share amounted to $404.08 — all covered by Rae — according to Cachola.
The total amount in meals that council members received during the 2006 – 2007 fiscal year from lobbyists for Campbell far exceeded the $200 limit, according to Cachola’s figures. For instance, Kobayashi received meals totaling $865.07 and Apo $703.
Similar violations took place in subsequent years, according to Cachola.
But Kobayashi said that the breakdown in meal expenses is inaccurate because the bills were simply divided by the number of people present.
She noted that she barely drinks alcohol, other than perhaps a glass of wine, and doesn’t partake in expensive dishes such as foie gras, so her share would have likely been much less.
“I’m not a drinker and I don’t eat that much,” she said.
Dela Cruz, who now serves in the state Senate, also said he wasn’t a drinker and that he doubted his restaurant bills would have exceeded the $200 limit. But he said it should be up to the ethics commission to make such a determination, not Cachola.
Garcia, who was fined $6,500 in 2012 for failing to disclose conflicts of interest related to the rail project, said he wasn’t clear how Cachola came up with his figures. He declined to comment further.
Cachola also detailed votes on 11 measures before the council from 2006 through 2012 that he claims would be invalidated because council members failed to disclose the gifts before voting on measures related to rail and development.
City ethics laws forbid council members from receiving gifts valued at more than $200. Further, if a council member receives an illegal gift from a lobbyist and fails to disclose it before voting on a related measure, the vote is invalidated, according to a city ethics advisory opinion.
Totto said that the commission would look into whether the measures should be invalidated and report that to the council and public. But ultimately he said it was likely something that the council would have to act on.
Kobayashi said she wasn’t sure what would happen if the ethics commission determines that votes on past bills and resolutions should be nullified, but she wasn’t too concerned about the rail measures.
“I’m against rail, so that wouldn’t bother me at all,” she said.
Cachola distributed the following documents to the media detailing alleged gift violations by his former colleagues: