The two assistant U.S. attorneys who had requested the subpoenas of Honolulu’s rail project in February no longer work for the U.S. Department of Justice, leaving it unclear who now oversees that federal investigation.
Lawrence Tong was an assistant U.S. attorney for nearly 30 years, but online records show he left the Hawaii District office in April. He now works as a deputy state attorney general.
Tong and Fenton were the two primary attorneys listed on threefederal Grand Jurysubpoenas requesting thousands of pages of documents from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation and the local rail agency’s board of directors.
Those expansive orders landed after the local multibillion-dollar rail project had seen its costs nearly double over several years. Rail officials have repeatedly pointed to the state and federal lawsuits that delayed work and pushed the project into an expensive construction market as a primary culprit, but multiple audits have flagged widespread historical mismanagement as well.
In March, the Honolulu City Council approved a forensic audit of rail to investigate potential criminal activity surrounding the transit project.
It’s not clear how Tong and Fenton’s departure has impacted the federal investigation involving rail, if at all.
DOJ Declines Comment
U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Ashley Edwards declined last week to confirm the existence of an investigation when asked whether it’s being run out of the Hawaii office or elsewhere — such as the Justice Department’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.
HART’s executive director, Andrew Robbins, says the agency has fully complied with two federal orders it received, providing authorities with four terabytes of documentation. The HART board, however, continues to grapple with how it will respond to the third subpoena. It requests the volunteer board’s meeting minutes through December, including its closed-door meetings.
“There’s nothing to hide,” HART board member Terrence Lee said at a meeting last month after the group discussed the subpoena in closed session.
“If we delivered the complete un-redacted minutes of the executive committee, we risk — I’ll go further than that — we would end up waiving the attorney-client privilege, and that is something that our counsel is advising us against,” Lee added.
In July, an undisclosed number of HART employees also received individual subpoenas that requested more details. The purpose of those added orders, as HART officials say they understand it, is to collect more background information. Robbins has said he’s not sure what the feds are looking for with those subpoenas, and he’s declined to say how many employees received them.
The Honolulu City Council, meanwhile, has declined to approve the funding for outside legal counsel to assist HART, the board or those employees with the federal orders.
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.