Former Honolulu managing director Roy Amemiya’s attempt to dismiss his federal conspiracy charge was denied by U.S District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi on Thursday.

Amemiya is charged alongside former Honolulu attorney Donna Leong and former police commission chairman Max Sword. Prosecutors say the trio coordinated to misappropriate government funds for the purpose of giving a $250,000 retirement package to then-police chief Louis Kealoha, who was under investigation for corruption at the time.

The indictment states that Honolulu City Council approval was required to execute the deal, but that the defendants worked to circumvent the council. Leong is further accused of lying to federal agents. All have pleaded not guilty.

Former city managing director Roy Amemiya appeared in federal court on Thursday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Amemiya’s attorney, Lyle Hosoda, said in a motion to dismiss and in oral arguments on Thursday that prosecutors failed to say what exactly his client had done wrong. According to Hosoda, Amemiya wasn’t involved with negotiating Kealoha’s retirement and wasn’t even aware of it until after it was done.

“How can you have a conspiracy if you’re not communicating with these individuals and there’s no allegation of such?” Hosoda asked. “He didn’t know about any of this until it came out in the newspaper.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin McDonald said the indictment provides more than enough detail to inform the defendants of the charges against them.

He noted that prosecutors are not required to list in the indictment all the facts they intend to prove at trial but that the indictment already includes several “overt acts” that indicate a conspiracy. He pointed to allegations in the indictment that Amemiya wanted HPD officials to keep quiet about the Kealoha settlement.

“Why were they trying to get HPD to lie about it if it was kosher?” McDonald said.

In a written reply to prosecutors, Hosoda made additional arguments for dismissal, including that City Council approval wasn’t actually required for Kealoha’s settlement. He asserts the Honolulu Police Commission had the sole authority to remove the chief, including by severance agreement.

Kobayashi didn’t seem convinced by that argument. She said the question of the case is not about the police commission’s authority to remove the chief but rather what she called a “quid pro quo” that was arranged: Kealoha would retire and take a $250,000 payout in exchange for a promise to release the city of any legal claims he had.

In the end, Kobayashi sided with McDonald, stating that the indictment provides a “fair and concise” statement of the alleged offenses. A trial is scheduled for June 13.

After the hearing, Hosoda made clear he plans to push harder on the argument that council approval was not required for the settlement and that the agreement was in line with the practices of the city.

One piece of evidence he hopes will illustrate that is a declaration Deputy Corporation Counsel Robert Kohn submitted to Kobayashi on Wednesday. The declaration was submitted in response to subpoenas issued to the city by Hosoda and Leong’s attorney Lynn Panagakos.

In it, Kohn states that the California firm Farella Braun and Martel conducted an “independent internal investigation” of the Kealoha settlement in 2019 and found that Leong and Corporation Counsel attorneys followed “long-established procedures in connection with the Kealoha separation and that communications by the City’s attorneys were not in furtherance of any criminal activity.”

The declaration was filed too late to be discussed at Thursday’s hearing on Hosoda’s motion to dismiss, but Hosoda indicated he plans to bring it up later on.

“We’ll be back,” he said.

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