Federal authorities in Honolulu have arrested a high-ranking government official from the Federated States of Micronesia in the latest development in a Hawaii bribery scandal involving a prominent local engineer.
Master Halbert, 44, was charged in District Court Monday with money laundering — part of a scheme in which Honolulu-based civil engineering firm Lyon Associates paid public officials more than $400,000 in bribes to secure more than $10 million in contracts.
Lyon’s president, Frank James Lyon, admitted to the bribes last month in a plea agreement. Those payments included some $250,000 in bribes to unidentified state government officials to secure a $2.5 million contract in Hawaii, according to the deal.
Halbert, an assistant secretary and safety inspector for FSM’s Department of Aviation, is “Micronesian Official 1” in Lyon’s Jan. 22 plea agreement. Halbert was charged with violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act on Jan. 24. Those charges, unsealed Monday, provide more details into the bribes, which included thousands of dollars in cash payments and car purchases to Halbert in exchange for the contract work.
The Federal Courthouse in Honolulu.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
According to the complaint, Halbert sent an email in 2010 expressing worry about a vehicle that Lyon had bought for him after local FSM officials started to question the purchase.
“I know I should protect myself and (not) put this in writing or discuss this in e-mail or any form of communication that can provide as a concrete evident (sic) and come back and used against me but its (sic) ok, if you want to take me down no problem,” Halbert wrote to Lyon and another unnamed co-conspirator after the FSM auditor started asking questions.
Halbert told them that if they didn’t support him in the auditor’s inquiry then he did “not think (they) should do business together again,” according to the complaint.
Halbert, who helped managed Federal Aviation Administration-funded airport projects, was one of two Micronesian officials who benefitted from bribes, according to Lyon’s plea deal.
The second official was a member of the FSM Congress, and authorities still haven’t said who that is.
The messages from Halbert detailed in the complaint complement other email excerpts that were included in Lyon’s Jan. 22 plea deal.
“This is an example of things (I) have to do,” Lyon wrote in an email to his alleged co-conspirator, an FSM resident, as he looked to purchase a new Ford truck for Halbert.
“This is illegal. (I) can only do these things when people don’t know what I am doing,” Lyon wrote, according to the plea agreement.
Halbert is scheduled for a pretrial detention hearing Feb. 13 and a preliminary hearing Feb. 22. in U.S. District Court, according to the Department of Justice.
Read the federal complaint against him here:
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues
Before you go . . .
During a crisis like this, it’s more important than ever to dig beyond the news, to figure out what government policies mean for ordinary citizens and how those policies were put together.
For the first time, Civil Beat has become a seven-days-per-week news operation, publishing new stories and a new edition each Saturday and Sunday as well as weekdays.
This is perhaps the biggest, most consequential story our reporters will ever cover. And at no other time in Civil Beat’s history have we relied on your support more. Please consider supporting Civil Beat by making a tax-deductible gift.