Several Hawaii Department of Transportation employees have been arrested and some have left their jobs in the last 16 months as the Attorney General’s office investigates theft and procurement fraud at the Daniel K. Inouye Airport. 

At least five airport employees have been detained on suspicion of theft, but state authorities have yet to charge them with crimes. Meanwhile, Roy Sakata – the district manager overseeing the Honolulu airport, the Kalaeloa airport and Dillingham airfield – is no longer working for the DOT as of this month. 

Sakata had wide-ranging authority over the administration, operation and maintenance of the state’s largest airport district, according to the state’s description of his role

In a statement, the state Department of Transportation confirmed that both criminal and administrative investigations are underway and that some employees are no longer working for the DOT as a result. 

Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
State authorities arrested an employee of Daniel K. Inouye Airport as recently as March. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

While the airport is funded mostly from fees, not tax dollars, the DOT said it considers its revenue to be public money that needs to be protected. 

“When a person accepts public employment, he or she has a duty to be diligent in the receipt and expenditure of public funds – we are all accountable to the public,” the department said. “There is an ongoing criminal investigation and we’ve been cooperating fully.”

The AG’s office declined to comment other than to say the criminal investigation is ongoing. 

The arrests appear to have begun on April 8, 2021, with an early morning raid at the airport.

Armed with a search warrant for the Maintenance Section Airfield and Grounds Maintenance Unit Facility – also known as the baseyard – authorities seized computers, files and equipment, KHON and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported at the time. 

Arnold Keawe Sr., an automotive mechanic supervisor, and David Kaio, a general construction and maintenance supervisor, were both arrested, the AG’s office confirmed. Both men are no longer working for the DOT, the transportation department said. 

The Hawaii Sherrif’s Office arrest log shows Randall Johnson, an automotive mechanic helper in the DOT airport division, was arrested the following day. 

Then on Nov. 9, Steve Washiashi, a purchasing technician, was taken into custody. Both Johnson and Washiashi still work for the DOT, the agency said. 

And on March 10, Wesley Shiroma, an airport construction and maintenance superintendent, was arrested. DOT said he is now an engineer in the division he used to oversee. 

According to the AG’s office, all the men were brought in on suspicion of second-degree theft, a felony that covers thefts of more than $750. However, they were not formally charged and were released pending investigation. 

Civil Beat attempted to reach all those who were arrested – as well as Sakata, who the AG’s office said was not detained – but did not receive any responses. 

‘We’ve Held Employees Accountable’  

The DOT declined to comment on whether any additional employees have been arrested and wouldn’t say whether anyone has been disciplined or put on leave in relation to the matter. However, the department did say it has taken steps to respond to wrongdoing. 

Terminal 2 signs at Daniel K Inouye International Airport.
The DOT said it is working to improve its processes at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

A month after the arrests in April 2021, the DOT assigned an interim management team. 

It was tasked with assessing the Oahu airport district’s adherence to state processes and rules and to “investigate, correct, and implement corrective processes such as inventory control, procurements, supervisory and management oversight of processes adopted to properly manage the airport,” the DOT said. 

And in the spring of 2022, the department appointed an airport administrator, a position DOT said had been vacant since 2008, to further address issues and “implement review processes” within the department. 

That administrator, Davis Yogi, has made a positive impact, according to the department. Working closely with the DOT’s deputy director and other managers, Yogi has provided necessary oversight to the airport, the department said. 

However, Yogi’s position, along with two others, has since been eliminated from the state budget, despite declarations from the transportation department that the cuts would “cripple and obstruct” state-run airports.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, succeeded in passing the cuts through the budget, which was signed by Gov. David Ige. Dela Cruz did not respond to a request for comment on Monday about the elimination of Yogi’s position. 

Nevertheless, Yogi continues to do his work, according to the DOT, apparently in a different position. 

“Through close scrutiny of the Division’s operations and holding managers at all levels accountable, the Administrator has strengthened all facets of Airports operations,” the DOT said. “We needed a culture of accountability and we’ve held employees accountable. That oversight put into place continues to this day and into the future.” 

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author