A former Maui County official and the wealthy Honolulu businessman who bribed him both pleaded guilty to felony charges in Hawaii federal court Monday.

Stewart Stant, the former director of the Maui Department of Environmental Management, could face up to 20 years in prison for accepting about $2 million worth of bribes from Milton Choy, who also faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Both men pleaded guilty to charges that they conducted a bribery scheme between 2012 and 2018 in order to funnel lucrative contracts to Choy’s company, H2O Process Systems. Stant pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud, while Choy pleaded guilty to bribery of a government official. They’re expected to be sentenced Jan. 4.

Choy and Stant were both released Monday on $50,000 unsecured bonds.

Milton Choy arrives at US District Court.
Milton Choy, the businessman at the center of bribery investigations this year, appeared in federal court for the first time Monday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

In exchange for pleading guilty, both men could receive reduced sentences. Choy and Stant also agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice and provide any information regarding criminal activity that they are aware of. Choy had been working with the FBI since sometime in 2019, according to his attorney, Michael Green, including on a case that earlier this year resulted in the convictions of two Hawaii lawmakers for accepting bribes in exchange for steering legislation favorable to Choy.

Choy and Stant are also required to disclose all their assets to the federal government. In addition, prosecutors are seeking forfeitures of up to $2 million from Stant and $15 million from Choy — equal to the bribes the former official took and the proceeds Choy’s company made from Maui contracts.

Federal prosecutors also agreed not to press additional bribery charges against Choy and Stant in return for their guilty pleas. That includes the case of two state lawmakers who accepted bribes from Choy.

Stant is the third public official to face federal charges for accepting bribes from Choy. The other two are former lawmakers J. Kalani English and Ty Cullen. Cullen is expected to be sentenced in October.

Stant walked up to the federal court house wearing sunglasses, a dark suit and pants, black shirt and a chain around his neck.

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson asked Stant if he understood why he was appearing in court.

“To allow me to plead guilty to the charges I am accused of,” Stant replied.

Those charges include allegations that Stant took bribes in order to steer nearly $20 million worth of sole source contracts to H2O Process Systems. By declaring that Choy’s company was the only one in the state able to provide certain products or services, Stant avoided the competitive bidding process, prosecutors said.

Choy’s bribes to Stant came in the form of cash, direct payments, and trips to Las Vegas.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson read from transcripts of text messages between Choy and Stant in 2016. In one exchange, Stant tells Choy that he is waiting to finalize a purchase order for one of Choy’s contracts. Choy replied that if everything went through then “I’ll have something for you when I come to Maui.”

In another text conversation regarding a more than $1 million installation of a new wastewater filtration system, Choy mentions a trip to Las Vegas.

“When we go up, I’ll have 125 for you,” Sorenson, quoting Choy’s text, said. In this instance, “125” meant $125,000 worth of poker chips.

Gambling records in Nevada showed that Stant cashed a total of $183,000 worth of chips that he did not originally pay for, Sorenson said.

Stant was released Monday on a $50,000 bond.

In brief remarks to reporters Monday morning, Stant’s attorney, Clarence Virtue, said, Stant “takes responsibility for his actions.”

Stewart Olani Stant arrives at District Court.
Former Maui County Environmental Management Director Stewart Stant admitted to taking bribes to influence contract decisions. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Choy arrived with attorney Green in a blue BMW. He wore a gray long-sleeve dress shirt.

Federal prosecutors estimate that contracts to H2O Process Systems accounted for 31% of all sole source contracts that Maui County doled out between 2012 and 2018. Those contracts also made up a majority of H2O Process System’s cash flow during that time period, according to Sorenson.

In addition to the bribes, prosecutors also found instances of Choy paying more than $1,000 for flights to Las Vegas for Stant.

Those financial favors were “intended to influence him in his role,” Choy told the court.

When asked by Watson how he pleads, Choy paused briefly before replying that he pleads guilty. Choy was also released Monday.

Green said Choy had been cooperating with the DOJ before he ever sought an attorney. Choy began cooperating around 2019 but didn’t hire Green until late 2020.

“The things that he told them, they were investigating and knew about. There were other things he told them, that they didn’t know about,” Green told reporters. “He was complete. He was honest.”

Green said he still isn’t sure how much prison time Choy could face. He said Choy’s company’s won contracts long before Stant came into a position of power in Maui County. Asked why Choy resorted to bribery, Green said what began as one favor may have escalated into a full blown conspiracy.

“They knew each other for a long time,” Green said of Choy and Stant. “And then you do a favor for one person, and then it grows into another favor. Pretty soon, someone has a mortgage payment to make, they have a car payment to make. All of a sudden, somebody’s going to Vegas to see a show. And it kind of escalates.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

Read the plea agreements below

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