Honolulu Managing Director Roy Amemiya will continue running the daily operations of the city despite being under investigation by the FBI, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said on Tuesday.

“He is a critical component to the day-to-day operation of the city and makes sure that everything is performing well,” Caldwell said.

“With the pandemic, it’s becoming more critical that we have people with knowledge and experience with how the city runs and to make sure things happen. Given that we’re at the tail end of our administration with about five months left, I’ve asked Roy to stay on as the managing director because we need him more than ever.”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell walks out before presser discussing where his administration is going to find the $44 million tor rail in their plan,
Mayor Kirk Caldwell will keep Roy Amemiya, right, on the job even though the managing director is under federal investigation. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

Amemiya’s lawyer revealed last week that his client had received an FBI subject letter and had testified before a federal grand jury.

Amemiya’s testimony follows a recent visit to the grand jury by Max Sword, a former member of the Honolulu Police Commission. Sword’s involvement suggests the feds are still looking at the $250,000 severance payment the commission gave to former Police Chief Louis Kealoha.

The mayor declined to comment about that possibility.

Amemiya is the fourth city official known to have received either a subject or target letter from the FBI.

A target is someone about whom the feds have “substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. A subject is a person whose conduct is within the scope of a grand jury’s investigation.

Corporation Counsel Donna Leong received an FBI target letter in January 2019 and was immediately put on paid leave. As of May 1, she has been transitioning to unpaid leave as she uses up her accrued vacation days.

HPD Chief Kealoha Acting Mayor Roy Amemiya2. 20 dec 2016
Roy Amemiya, right, and Max Sword have both recently been called to testify before a federal grand jury. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

Elected Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro also received a target letter and has been on paid leave as well since March 2019.

Like Amemiya, First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chasid Sapolu received a subject letter. He is on administrative leave and hasn’t worked since December 2018.

The city has not explained why Sapolu was put on leave but Amemiya was not.

Unrelated to the federal probe, Honolulu Enterprise Services Director Guy Kaulukukui is also on paid leave. He was removed from his city duties after a former student of his alleged in a lawsuit that Kaulukukui engaged in an exploitative sexual relationship with her. She was 15 at the time, and Kaulukukui was a teacher and coach at Kamehameha Schools, the lawsuit states.

Asked on Tuesday about why Kaulukukui was put on leave for a civil case but Amemiya was not for a criminal probe, Caldwell said: “Two different cases, two different issues and two different points.”

Civil Beat asked the mayor what his message would be to people who have lost confidence in his administration because of the federal probe. A May poll by Civil Beat and Hawaii News Now showed Caldwell was viewed negatively by 47% of respondents.

Caldwell didn’t answer.

“There is an assumption in there, and I’m not going to speculate,” he said.  

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