A veteran of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting will go to prison for two and a half years after pleading guilty to accepting over $63,000 in bribes over the course of a decade, a federal judge ordered on Monday. 

Jennie Javonillo, 72, worked for DPP for 32 years. For the last 10 years of her career, she accepted cash from at least 10 individuals and companies who received expedited processing for their projects, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael David Nammar. The prosecutor said after the sentencing that he was not allowed to share the names of the customers who bribed Javonillo.

It was not a victimless crime, according to Nammar. The former building plans examiner perpetuated a pay-to-play culture at DPP in which people who offered bribes got their projects approved in “record time,” while construction stalled for those who refused to pay, Nammar said. 

Jennie Javonillo walks out of the US District Court after receiving a 30-month prison term.
Jennie Javonillo walked out of the U.S. District Court after receiving a 30-month prison sentence. She is ordered to turn herself in next month. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Javonillo took steps to conceal her wrongdoing, including accepting money in the DPP parking lot, the prosecutor said. She also “laundered” the cash through her Macy’s credit card and lied to federal agents after she was caught, according to Nammar. 

“This was not a one-time lapse in judgment,” Nammar said. 

Javonillo is the first defendant to be sentenced after the feds indicted her and four other DPP employees along with one of their customers last year. 

Three of those charged – former building inspector Jason Dadez, former plans examiner Kanani Padeken and architect Bill Wong – also pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Former chief building examiner Wayne Inouye and Jocelyn Godoy, who worked in DPP’s data access and imaging branch, have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trials that are scheduled for August. 

Javonillo and her attorney Lars Isaacson requested probation or home confinement considering she ultimately accepted responsibility for her crimes. In a statement before the court, Javonillo apologized to the public. 

“I’m just asking for leniency in my sentencing,” she said. 

However, Nammar said it was important to send a message to anyone thinking of using their public position to benefit themselves, and U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson agreed. 

The judge noted that Javonillo’s misconduct occurred “again and again” over many years and that she initially showed no remorse or embarrassment for her actions. In fact, Javonillo previously minimized her conduct and spoke about it as if she were providing a public service and that everyone else was doing it, according to Watson.

The judge expressed hope that Javonillo’s sentence would be a deterrent to others who may be tempted to take bribes.

“We cannot do the job the public entrusts us to do only when receiving additional payments beyond our compensation,” Watson said as he handed down Javonillo’s sentence. “That erodes public trust and confidence in our local government, and it instills a system that has plagued this island for as long as I can remember.”

Javonillo was ordered to surrender on Aug. 8 to begin her 30-month prison sentence, which will be followed by two years of supervised release, Watson said. She was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. She already has paid back $3,000, the judge said. 

Javonillo and her attorney, as well as federal prosecutors, declined to comment after the sentencing. 

Federal prosecutors charged Javonillo with three counts of honest services wire fraud but dropped two of those counts in exchange for Javonillo’s guilty plea. 

In a statement, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi apologized to the people of Oahu for what he called “this egregious violation of their trust.”

“We want to emphasize that there is no place in the Department of Planning and Permitting, or any other city agency, for this type of illegal behavior,” he said. “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the actions of this employee and the others who are still awaiting their fate. We are working hard to ensure the public that criminal behavior like this will not happen again.”

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