Trustees for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs spent their individual allowances on tickets to charitable galas, sponsorships for athletes and pageant contestants and donations to specific families among, many other things, according to an analysis of expense reports covering July 2016 to December 2017.

OHA is a state agency that manages a multimillion-dollar trust fund dedicated to the betterment of Native Hawaiians.

Each of the nine trustees receives an annual allowance that was $7,200 in 1991 and intended to help communication with beneficiaries and promote Hawaiian issues. But unlike similar allowances for county and state legislators, the rules governing the use of OHA allowances — which are trust funds, not taxpayer money — are relatively lax.

Today, each trustee receives about $22,000 and can spend the money on everything from donations to particular individuals to nonprofit organizations that may not qualify for formal OHA grants.

A state audit released earlier this year examined trustee allowance spending from fall 2013 to spring 2016 and criticized the loose guidelines. The audit highlighted how trustees don’t have an official process for verifying that recipients of the funds are actually Hawaiian.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs OHA board sign board meeting.
Each Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee is offered an annual allowance of $22,000. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

“We acknowledge that trustees have broad discretion in determining whether a particular expenditure betters the conditions of Native Hawaiians and Hawaiians, but their desire to provide assistance should be tempered by their fiduciary duties to the trust beneficiaries, which include acting impartially, considering the interests of both present and future beneficiaries,” the audit said.

The audit noted that the “overall pattern of questionable spending of Trustee Allowances, which are trust funds, reflects indifference towards money held for trust beneficiaries.”

The “questionable use” of the funds may erode public confidence in OHA, the audit said, adding that no trustee had ever been sanctioned for misuse of his or her allowance.

“Perhaps most importantly, the inappropriate use of trust funds may be resulting in trustees committing breaches for trust and fiduciary duties,” the audit said, recommending clearer policies and enforcement of sanctions.

Civil Beat obtained trustee expense reports from July 2016 to December 2017 through a public records request with the help of The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest. OHA resisted releasing these reports for several months, noting that the agency is under investigation by the state Attorney General’s office in the wake of the state audit. Hawaii News Now reported that OHA is also under investigation by the FBI.

In response to the audit, OHA put a moratorium on spending trustee allowances. An OHA ad hoc committee recommended capping the allowances at $7,200 each, Hawaii Public Radio reported last week.

Here is a summary of how each trustee spent their allowance.

Dan Ahuna

Dan Ahuna is a strong supporter of athletic programs and spent his trustee allowance accordingly, including on the following:

  • $2,000 to Hawaii Speed & Quickness to support mentoring programs for young student athletes and another $2,500 to the same organization to sponsor high school players in the College Football Showcase
  • $1,200 to help Hawaii’s surf team participate in the 2016 ISA World Championships in Portugal
  • $1,000 to Kauai Youth Football to help Native Hawaiian young people get football training and another $1,000 to the same organization to support the Junior Menehune Football Team
  • $2,500 to sponsor the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Celebration Dinner
  • $2,000 to Hawaii Elite Baseball for the “Garden Island Baseball Clinic & Showcase for the youth of Hawaii” and another $1,650 for the 8th Annual Baseball & Softball Clinic on Kauai for the Kauai youth players
  • $1,000 to support Kauai youth baseball teams
  • $750 for the Hawaii Football Club to support the fourth annual Life Champion Bowl on Kauai
  • $500 for the Kauai Yankees baseball team’s trip to Japan
  • $120 to support a player in the 2017 Rainbow Warrior Football Elite Camp

Ahuna’s other donations included:

  • $700 advertisement to sponsor a participant in the 2017 Miss Kauai Teen USA
  • $300 to support a participant in the Miss Kauai Filipina Scholarship Pageant
    Medical, education and conference costs for several individuals
  • $300 to help an individual attend the 2017 presidential inauguration

Ahuna declined a phone interview about his expenses but wrote in an email: “My only response to any questions regarding these expenditures is that they were all made in accordance with OHA policy and I am proud to have supported these multiple organizations and causes in an effort to further OHA’s mission to serve and better the conditions of Native Hawaiians, especially our youth.”

Rowena Akana

Rowena Akana spent much of her allowance on telecommunications like Wi-Fi, phone and fax lines and an iPhone 7 plus.

Her other expenses include:

  • $1,000 to St. Augustine Church for the 2016 Ho’ohalia Gala
  • $1,300 donation to a beneficiary
  • $1,500 donation to the American Cancer Society

Akana is the subject of an ethics investigation into expenditures between 2013 and 2017 that include accepting $72,000 from Princess Abigail Kawananakoa and improperly spending her allowance, including giving a donation the Hawaiian Humane Society. Akana has denied the allegations and has filed a lawsuit to fight the charges. The contested case proceedings are expected to begin this month. She has called the allegations politically motivated and is running for re-election this year.

In response to a request for comment for this article, Akana wrote, “NOPE.”

Peter Apo

Like Akana, Apo has run into trouble with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission. Last year he paid a $25,000 fine after the commission found he used OHA funds for personal purposes, including writing a column for Civil Beat. OHA also paid $50,000 to settle a sexual harassment complaint against Apo.

The expense reports from July 2016 to December 2017 found much of Apo’s allowance was spent on online communications along with sponsorships for various conferences and events. Some of the line items included:

  • $3,000 to sponsor the National Kidney Foundation gala
  • $1,000 for the Waianae Coast Community Foundation which supports food bank distributions and an after-school football program
  • $270 for Apo’s registration fee to attend the Stars of Hospitality Awards Gala in Waikiki
  • $250 two tickets for an Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame event
  • $200 for Apo’s registration fee for the Global Tourism Summit
  • $300 Sisters Empowering Hawaii, four tickets
  • Donation for two beneficiaries’ registration fees to attend the Hawaii Tourism Authority conference

“Everything that I spent my money on betters the conditions of Native Hawaiians,” Apo said in a phone interview. “I feel really good about everything I did, I apologize for none of it.”

He said many Hawaiians depend on dialysis and added that his money spent on tourism galas and conferences helps “position Hawaiians in a better place to be part of an industry that’s built on the backs of the Hawaiian concept of aloha.”

In Apo’s view, people are picking on OHA. “There are far more violations of that nature… by every elected official in Hawaii in every branch of government,” he said. Even though “there are probably some questionable expenses,” he believes “the majority of trustees spent their money that definitely contributed to the betterment of Native Hawaiians.”

Lei Ahu Isa

Ahu Isa’s allowance went largely to individuals and organizations like the River of Life Mission and KAMP Hawaii. She returned her remaining balance earlier this year following the audit. Here are her big-ticket expenses:

  • $2,500 to Palama Settlement to support the Palakea Football Program
  • $2,000 for silver table sponsorship of the Malama Palama gala, which raises money for Palama Settlement
  • $2,500 to sponsor a beneficiary for Strides Against Cancer
  • $2,250 to support the kupuna health program at Waikiki Community Center
  • $1,000 to a beneficiary’s medical expenses and $1,000 to another beneficiary

Ahu Isa declined to comment on her expenses.

Carmen Hulu Lindsey

Lindsey from Maui spent her allowance on meetings with beneficiaries, donations to Hawaiian nonprofits and donations to beneficiaries. Some of her expenses include:

  • $1,250 for the Boys and Girls Club of Maui for the annual gala fundraiser Little Chef Big Chef
  • $1,000 sponsorship for the 31st Annual Ironworkers Scholarship Golf Tournament 2016
  • $1,000 sponsorship for the 32nd Annual Ironworkers Scholarship Golf Tournament 2017

Like Akana, Lindsey is running for re-election this year. She did not respond to a phone message and emails seeking comment.

Robert Lindsey

Lindsey didn’t have as many expenditures as his fellow trustees. Like Ahuna, he gave $1,200 to the Hawaii Surf Team to participate in the 2016 ISA World Junior Surfing Championships in Portugal. Lindsey also spent $240 for a half-page advertisement to support Mrs Honolulu Hawaii 2017 for the Mrs. Hawaii State Pageant.

Lindsey declined to comment for this story.

Colette Machado

Machado donated several times to families who had lost loved ones in amounts ranging from $200 to $1,000. She also spent much of her allowance buying lunches for staff and gatherings related to Native Hawaiians.

Other donations included:

  • $4,000 to support an annual career fair for students on Lanai
  • $1,000 to help Kilohana Elementary School students take a trip to the Big Island
  • $200 donation for Molokai Earth Day Celebration
  • $150 for 30 lei for the Japanese Women’s Society Adopt-A-Mom Program

Machado declined to comment for this story.

Trustee Kelii Akina has never spent his allowance and trustee John Waihee IV did not spend any of his allowance during the period for which reports were obtained.

Waihee previously told Civil Beat that he stopped using his allowance years ago due to confusion over the rules. Like Akana, Ahu Isa and Hulu Lindsey, Waihee is running for re-election this fall.

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