The executive of a company leading development in the Ala Moana area could be facing criminal penalties over allegations that he made illegal donations to Honolulu mayoral candidates in 2020.

The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission voted unanimously to forward an investigation into donations made by JL Capital CEO Timothy Lee to the state Attorney General’s Office for further investigation and possible criminal prosecution.

Commission staff allege that Lee illegally used employees to funnel money to the mayoral campaigns of Keith Amemiya and Kymberly Pine in 2020. Lee is accused of eight counts of false name contributions, a Class C felony in Hawaii punishable by up to five years in prison.

JL Capital CEO Timothy Lee, bottom left, listens to Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission General Counsel Gary Kam, center, recite an investigation report into donations made by Lee and his employees. Lee appeared with his attorney David Minkin, bottom right. Screenshot/2022

The commission’s investigation alleges that Lee asked four of his employees to write checks to the Amemiya and Pine campaigns. He later reimbursed the employees with checks or cash payments, according to the investigation report.

Lee, through his employees, gave $4,000 to Amemiya’s campaign and $8,000 to Pine’s campaign, the commission’s investigation alleges.

David Minkin, Lee’s attorney, challenged assertions made in the investigation report that claim Lee asked his employees to make those donations. However, neither he nor Lee denied that Lee reimbursed employees for donations they made to the Amemiya and Pine campaigns.

“Mr. Lee is fully aware of the consequences and fully understands he cannot reimburse people months later for contributions made on their own behest,” Minkin said, adding that Lee was “very sorry for what has taken place.”

Minkin would not allow Lee to speak during the commission’s hearing because of the potential for further criminal investigation. Asked by commission Chairman Stanley Lum to clarify Lee’s position on the charges, Minkin said that some employees, but not all, were reimbursed for political contributions they made but “there was no ‘Donate and we’ll take care of you.’”

Minkin asked the commissioners to further investigate the case and find a way to handle the issue administratively. He pointed to an employment dispute between Lee and a former JL Capital employee, Ka Wai “Norman” Chan, as being the problem.

While the commission’s report includes bank records that trace the campaign donations back to Lee, allegations that Lee asked his employees to make those donations were based in part on a chronology provided by attorney Andrew Stewart, who represented Chan.

The chronology of events from Chan and Stewart suggest that Lee has previously asked his subordinates to make similar donations for which they would be reimbursed.

JL Capital is behind the development of the “Sky” condominiums near Ala Moana Shopping Center. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Minkin said that the chronology filed with the commission’s report contained “a number of misstatements and absolute falsehoods.”

Lee fired Chan in mid-2020. A complaint filed with the federal Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission was dismissed in 2021, Minkin told the commission. He said that Stewart had sent a demand letter.

Stewart was preparing to file a lawsuit around July 2020 that laid out the campaign donation allegations but never followed through. Minkin opened the hearing saying that he planned to refer Stewart to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel for allegedly threatening JL Capital. Stewart would later tip off the Campaign Spending Commission to the contribution violations.

Minkin asked the commissioners to consider Stewart and Chan’s motivations.

“The motivation and everything else needs to be looked at as to what prompted Mr. Stewart to do this, what prompted Mr. Chan to do this,” Minkin said, adding that statements from Chan in the report were not made under oath.

Commissioner Neal Herbert said that the employment dispute is separate from the allegations that Lee reimbursed employees for campaign donations.

“All the other factors are not being refuted,” Herbert said.

There was little discussion among the other commissioners before the vote to send the investigation to the AG’s office.

Only Lee is accused of the false name contributions. JL Capital employees are not named as respondents in the commission’s complaint, and commission staff said that there was no evidence that Pine and Amemiya knew of the false name contributions.

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