I understand that Kaneshiro and Leong are public employees (as was Kealoha, who is now awaiting trial and was awarded a comfy $250,000 severance package upon retirement), and that there are laws and personnel reasons for keeping them on salary while they are under criminal investigation.
But it seems that we have this backwards. Why shouldn’t such employees be placed on unpaid leave instead?
If they are eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, they could get a big fat check in back pay and maybe keep their job. But if they are convicted of a crime, taxpayers could keep the money — it belongs to them, after all.
Think about it: During the federal government shutdown some 800,000 employees were either furloughed or worked without pay. All because President Donald Trump wanted a wall he still does not have.
By contrast, Kaneshiro, who has served as prosecuting attorney for 16 years, has been on the public payroll even after he was reported to have received a target letter from the U.S. Justice Department three months ago. He did not step aside then, nor when Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors last month announced that he should step aside given the obvious “appearance of impropriety.”
Kaneshiro’s top deputy, Chasid Sapolu, took a leave of absence not long after the news broke in early December about him being a subject of the investigation. That was the right thing to do. But he is still benefitting financially, too: A spokesman for the office said Tuesday that Sapolu has “been receiving his salary but using the vacation time he had accumulated.”
Taxpayers are also footing the legal fees in these cases. In Kaneshiro’s case, the Honolulu City Council just approved paying a well-heeled law firm $75,000 to represent him in an impeachment challenge. They had little choice.
Kealoha and his wife Katherine, who used to work for Kaneshiro and who is under investigation herself, were assigned publicly funded defense lawyers because they didn’t have the money to pay for their defense. That arrangement is being challenged by a federal prosecutor now that the Kealohas’ $1.3 million Hawaii Kai home was sold.
The whole affair, which began five years ago and shows no sign of ending soon, is now being described as the biggest corruption scandal in the city’s history. It is not hard to imagine that more public employees will be named, more paid leave taken and more legal fees racked up.
And that will mean more money from taxpayers to support people who might have committed serious crimes. The fact that they all are in trouble for allegations of wrongdoing while working in law enforcement is all the more galling.
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