The Hawaii State Ethics Commission announced Thursday that it has reached a $25,000 settlement agreement with Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Peter Apo, who admitted to using the state agency’s connections and resources to benefit his consulting firm, The Peter Apo Company.
The $25,000 fine is one of the largest in ethics commission history. Apo was elected to the OHA board in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.
Apo was also at the center of sexual harassment allegations that resulted in OHA paying $50,000 to a former employee. A lawsuit was filed to force Apo to pay for the settlement out of his own pocket, but was later dismissed.
“The commission did take this matter very seriously and the settlement agreement reflects that,” said Dan Gluck, executive director of the ethics commission. “It’s one of the largest penalties the commission has ever collected.”
Apo declined a Civil Beat request for an interview. But in a written statement issued through his public relations spokeswoman Kitty Lagareta, Apo said that any ethical violations that occurred were inadvertent.
He also threw barbs at his political rivals, who he says have been attacking him for years.
“I never intended to violate the ethics code and I accept responsibility for my errors,” Apo said. “I apologize to OHA beneficiaries and employees, and to my fellow OHA trustees, as well as to the Ethics Commission.”
According to the settlement document, Apo admitted to using OHA time and resources to conduct personal business for The Peter Apo Company on “innumerable occasions.”
Apo’s company is described in the settlement as a “limited liability company that provides services in business consulting, music, and journalism.” It also provides cultural consulting to businesses over Native Hawaiian culture and traditions.
“I never intended to violate the ethics code and I accept responsibility for my errors.” — Peter Apo
Several of the allegations involve Apo’s work as a paid columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat, where he wrote about Native Hawaiian issues.
The settlement states that Apo often had OHA staffers conduct research for his columns while they supposed to be working for OHA. They also set up meetings with clientele of Apo’s company.
In his response, Apo said that he learned during ethics commission investigation that when he asked a member of his OHA staff to help him with his private business — a service he paid her for through his private company — that he violated the ethics code.
“I also learned that when I asked a member of my OHA staff to do research for articles about OHA issues for the OHA newspaper, it was fine,” Apo said. “However, when Civil Beat published the same article, the Commission believed I used state resources for my private business.”
Apo is no longer a columnist for Civil Beat.
The ethics commission’s investigation also explored Apo’s involvement in the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope and whether he violated the state’s fair treatment and conflict of interest laws by using his position as an OHA trustee to steer business to his own company.
According to the commission, Apo provided consulting services to DTL Hawaii, a planning firm that is closely affiliated with WCIT Architects, from Jan. 1, 2014, to June 1, 2016.
Both DTL and WCIT were part of a collaborative that was awarded a $2.9 million contract by OHA in 2015 to come up with a master plan for its oceanfront Kakaako property.
The commission found that while representatives of DTL and WCIT often gave presentations to the OHA Board of Trustees on its Kakaako contract, no evidence was found in the meeting minutes that Apo ever publicly disclosed his business relationship with DTL.
Of particular to concern to the commission was an April 30, 2015, trustee meeting in which they were going to discuss the agency’s position on the Thirty Meter Telescope project.
According to the commission, Trustee Hulu Lindsey made a motion to rescind OHA’s support for building the TMT atop Mauna Kea. Apo, however, moved to amend the motion to state that the trustees would rescind its support of the project, but not its support of choosing Mauna Kea as its site.
The motion passed and the commission found that Apo further recommended cultural training for the TMT Observatory Organization. A few weeks later, the commission found that Apo, on behalf of The Peter Apo Company, DTL and WCIT, emailed Henry Yang, who is the chair of the TMT Observatory Organization, to offer Native Hawaiian cultural training.
“The Commission believed that these actions likely violated both the Fair Treatment Law and the Conflicts of Interests Law,” the settlement states.
Apo described his solicitation of cultural training business from the TMT organization as a “potential ethics violation.”
“The Commission did not find that I obtained OHA business for DTL, a company I did consulting work with, however, the report noted that I had made comments about the Kaka’ako Makai in meetings where no votes were taken,” Apo said.
“When I learned through the course of the investigation that these actions on my part were violations of the ethics code, despite being inadvertent, I chose not to contest them,” he added. “I voluntarily and personally paid an administrative penalty of $25,000.”
Read the Hawaii State Ethics Commission settlement agreement here:
Read Apo’s full response here: