One of Hawaii’s top law enforcement officials says state prosecutors have done nothing with cases of white collar crime and government corruption forwarded to them by investigators during the last several years.

Daniel Hanagami, chief special investigator in the state Attorney General’s Office, said in written testimony to state lawmakers Thursday that the Complex Litigation Fraud and Compliance Unit has not pursued indictments for cases state investigators at the AG’s office completed.

The unit was created in 2019 to investigate cases of corruption, campaign spending fraud and bribery.

Hanagami’s testimony is on Senate Bill 2930, which proposes creating a new division in the AG’s office to investigate fraud and white collar crime. The bill also proposes the creation of a unit to investigate sex trafficking.

But Hanagami says a change is not needed.

“So far, completed cases that were sent to the unit have not been forwarded for indictments and are held in abeyance for no reason,” Hanagami said in his testimony, adding that the unit has “not been managed properly.”

Daniel Hanagami, chief special investigator in the state Attorney General’s Office, says that an anti-fraud unit has not moved forward with cases of government corruption and opposes creation of a new unit. Screenshot: Hawaii Senate/2022

Hanagami did not return a message left with his office Thursday afternoon.

Hanagami did not describe the cases that he says the AG’s office has declined to pursue. And the agency’s annual reports don’t list any criminal investigations.

Hanagami testified in person before the committee Thursday but did not mention any of the concerns he raised in his written testimony. In both his written and verbal testimony he opposed the creation of the new unit as unnecessary.

In written testimony, Hanagami said he believes the proposal to create a new investigative unit is in part retaliation for a civil rights case he’s filed against the AG’s office and an effort to remove him from his supervisory position. That case is ongoing, he said.

A spokesman for the AG’s office did not return messages seeking comment on Hanagami’s testimony.

The chief investigator’s allegations come as lawmakers are seeking to beef up an anti-corruption unit in the wake of felony charges filed against two former lawmakers who took part in a bribery scheme.

On Tuesday, J. Kalani English and Ty Cullen pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from a wastewater businessman who profited from legislation that Cullen and English helped to influence.

Hawaii U.S. Attorney Clare Connors detailed the charges against English and Cullen earlier this month. Connors was the state attorney general until recently and told reporters that the federal prosecution shouldn’t be construed to mean that the state isn’t doing its job.

“Just because the federal government is doing its job, doesn’t mean the state or the local government is not doing its job,” Connors said.

SB 2930 would allocate nine new positions and $834,000 to the new fraud unit. Hanagami questioned the need for a new unit when the AG’s office already has a fraud unit — the team he says has done nothing with corruption cases.

Attorney General Holly Shikida said these new units are essential to pursue white collar crime and corruption cases.

“We need the dedicated individuals to be able to do that,” Shikida said.

Connors established the Complex Litigation, Fraud and Compliance Unit in 2019, although it has since dropped the word “fraud” from its name. In 2020, the department requested $510,000 to fund 10 positions for the unit.

United States Attorney Clare Connors charge former Senator Jamie Kalani English and Representative Ty Cullen with one count of honest services wire fraud.
Hawaii U.S. Attorney Clare Connors created the Complex Litigation and Compliance Unit in 2019 when she was the state attorney general. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

“This unit was created to strengthen public confidence in government by investigating and prosecuting complex matters involving government corruption, program theft and fraud, campaign spending fraud, bribery and other matters that could erode the public’s confidence in government,” the department said in budget testimony that year.

The unit was staffed with a senior deputy, two other deputy attorneys general to handle litigation and prosecution, two forensic analysts, a compliance officer, a secretary and an assistant. Those analysts were retired federal investigators, and the unit was meant to act as a liaison to other federal agencies investigating “high profile criminal matters,” according to an annual report.

Hanagami says in his written testimony that the analysts were supposed to assist state investigators with financial analysis.

“They did for a while, but that relationship did not last too long due to personality conflicts and these analysts refused to assist the Special Agents in the Investigations Division,” his testimony said.

While the complex litigation unit reports directly to the AG, other units that focus on criminal prosecution appear to be struggling.

Deputy Attorney General Michell Puu told lawmakers that the department’s Criminal Justice Division has one attorney focused on white collar crime.

“And she is running herself ragged trying to keep up with the amount of material that she is looking through on a daily basis on multiple cases,” Puu said in support of SB 2930. “Adding to her available crew would be essential.”

Unit Has Focused On Civil Cases

If the complex litigation unit has worked on any cases of government fraud or corruption, that’s not apparent from the unit’s annual reports on its goals and objectives.

The complex litigation unit was led by Deputy Attorney General Lawrence Tong, who pursued what so far has been an unfruitful attempt to identify financial backers of protesters who opposed the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea in 2019.

Afternoon classes meet at Pu'uhuluhulu University on July 26, 2019. Free classes are offered daily to Kia'i in a range of subjects, including Hawaiian language, holidays and hula.
The state’s current anti-fraud unit has probed financial support for Mauna Kea protests in 2019 and has also assisted the state in its legal battle with those on Hawaiian homelands waitlist. Ronit Fahl/Civil Beat/2019

The unit lists defending the state from various lawsuits among its accomplishments.

Those include a class action lawsuit against the state’s pension system, a legal challenge brought by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs over Mauna Kea, and litigation involving the Hu Honua energy plant on the Big Island.

The complex litigation unit also assisted in defending the state against claims brought by thousands of Hawaiian beneficiaries who have waited decades for lease awards for homesteads.

Many people have died while still on the waitlist, and their attorneys have accused the state of stalling the case.

In 2020, the unit also brought a civil lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL labs. And last year, it brought a lawsuit against a Hawaii Medicaid provider alleging that the company submitted false claims to the medicaid program.

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