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Story updated 4:15 p.m., 2/28/2020
Kauai County Councilman Arthur Brun ran a drug trafficking conspiracy involving methamphetamine supplied by the United Samoan Organization, a gang that operates in and out of the Hawaii prison system, according to a federal indictment.
He and 11 others were arrested on multiple felony charges that include distributing meth, firearms violations, witness and evidence tampering and assaulting a law enforcement officer. Those arrested include Brun, Maluelue Umu, Kelvin Kauwila Kai, Steven Keliikuli, Kaniu Huihui, Sheena Millare, Efren Yanos, Kirsten Makanoe Ayau, Orlando Manguchei, Robby Silva, Haidee Sueyasu and Phrystal Bacio.
“These 12 defendants conspired to pump methamphetamine into the Kauai community,” U.S. Attorney Kenji Price said at a press conference Friday on Kauai.
The suspects have for years been suspected of distributing meth through Hawaii ports and mail parcels, according to Lucia Cabral-Dearmas, acting special agent in charge at Homeland Security Investigations.
Brun, vice chair of the council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee, pleaded not guilty Friday in U.S. court in Honolulu. Prosecutors intend to ask the judge to order Brun held without bail at a detention hearing scheduled for next week.
In a motion asking for bail to be denied, prosecutors said Brun “sometimes requested sexual favors as repayment for drugs he supplied.”
Dozens of special agents from Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. mainland were brought to Kauai to work on the case.
They tapped Brun’s cell phone and gathered video and audio evidence. In all, officers seized four kilos of crystal meth, known locally as “batu” or “ice,” and thousands of dollars in cash from those involved.
“We are committed to work together to identify and apprehend those that poison our community with illicit drugs and exploit the addictions of others for financial gain,” said Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck.
Manguchei’s alleged role in the drug ring was to protect Brun and the gang by physically confronting or threatening people at odds with the councilman. Brun attempted to obtain an unregistered firearm and ammunition for Manguchei, a fugitive wanted for violating terms of his release, despite being a convicted felon.
Umu, the leader of the United Samoan Organization, allegedly provided Brun with protection and wholesale quantities of methamphetamine.
At a Waimea park last October, Umu allegedly supplied Brun with roughly a pound of meth. Brun then spoke to Kai by phone and told him to go to Brun’s home in Waimea and “grab the bag” containing the drugs he had just received from Umu, prosecutors said.
About a month later, the feds say Brun supplied Yanos with a supply of meth in exchange for $1,000. A Kauai police officer later seized the drugs during a traffic stop.
Brun periodically warned members of his trafficking ring about the presence of police officers and in one instance told his associate to lie to police after his meth supply was seized during the traffic stop, according to the DOJ.
In October, Brun was arrested for allegedly assaulting a law enforcement officer who was acting in cooperation with and under the control of federal officers, a Department of Justice release says.
During a traffic stop, the officer asked Brun to get out of his car but he drove off instead, injuring the officer as he was trying to remove the keys from the ignition, according to the charges. A high-speed chase ensued, during which Brun allegedly tossed a backpack containing a pound of meth out of the car.
In the motion for no bail, prosecutors included transcripts of some of Brun’s intercepted calls. In one conversation cited in the motion, he mentions injuring the officer. “Was his fault he got hurt, the (expletive) stuck his arm in the car, what he expect,” he told an unknown male.
Two days later, Manguchei sent Brun a text message: “What, you never get caught with nothing, huh?”
Brun replied: “No, that’s why da kine. That’s why I ran.”
Brun then tried to conceal the meth by trying to persuade another person to provide false information to the Kauai Police Department about who owned the backpack, the DOJ release says.
While out on bail earlier this month, Brun was involved in a traffic crash that injured a 6-year-old boy and a man after Brun crossed the center line and crashed head on into a truck.
Brun remained seated in a wheelchair during Friday’s hearing because of injuries from that crash, said his court-appointed attorney, Rustam Barbee.
The other weapons charges involve Keliikuli, a convicted felon, possessing a Smith and Wesson .38 Special with six rounds of ammunition last month. Silva, also a convicted felon, was charged with having a variety of ammunition.
The indictment alleges the activity occurred from at least June until January.
Mayor Derek Kawakami issued a statement Thursday expressing his disappointment in an elected official being arrested for serious drug charges.
“But this highlights the reality that addiction is a disease that knows no bounds and does not discriminate,” Kawakami said. “While it’s important to remember that all persons are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, it is just as important to remember that no one – in any capacity – is above the law.”
Arryl Kaneshiro, the council chair, said in a statement that the county charter somewhat ties the council’s hands from taking action against Brun unless he is convicted of a felony.
Kaneshiro said he hopes Brun “will do what is right” but did not say what that might be.
“This is a testament of the hardships everyone deals with in their personal lives and the repercussion of the decisions we make as individuals,” Kaneshiro said.
Brun’s criminal history includes a 2004 misdemeanor conviction for abuse of a family/household member and a 2004 felony conviction for second-degree theft, according to court documents.
See the full list of charges against Brun and the 11 others below.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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