Wayne Inouye, Honolulu’s former chief building inspector, pleaded guilty in federal court on Monday to accepting over $100,000 in bribes to expedite permits between 2012 and 2017.

In a brief statement before Magistrate Judge Rom Trader, Inouye admitted he took the money in exchange for providing preferential treatment to several Department of Planning and Permitting customers.

“These plans would’ve been approved anyway,” Inouye said of applications from an architect, Bill Wong, who paid him over $89,000. “But their approval was expedited.”

Wayne Inouye walks near the entrance to US District Court.
Wayne Inouye appeared in U.S. District Court on Monday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

According to Inouye, the architect “offered to compensate” him to prescreen and expedite his plans and sometimes asked Inouye to review plans before they were submitted to DPP. Inouye also formed a company, SKI and Associates, to accept compensation from a signage contractor that also paid him, he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Nolan said Inouye took bribes to “enrich himself.”

Inouye could face up to 20 years in prison for each of the six counts of honest services wire fraud to which he pleaded guilty, in addition to up to five years for lying to federal agents about the scheme, Nolan said. In addition, Inouye could be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and restitution, according to the prosecutor.

During a proffer session with the FBI and federal prosecutors in 2019, Inouye told officials that the money he received from Wong was a loan, Nolan said. Inouye admitted on Monday that the statement was “materially misleading.”

In response to questions from the judge, Inouye answered affirmatively that he knew his actions were wrong and that he was voluntarily taking responsibility without a plea agreement with prosecutors. However, Inouye did not explain his motivations or express remorse for his actions.

“At the end of the day, Mr. Inouye wanted to take responsibility and decided to do so without a plea agreement,” his attorney Thomas Otake said after the proceedings. He declined to elaborate on the decision or his client’s motivations.

Prosecutors declined to comment on the case.

An employee of DPP for nearly 40 years, Inouye, 65, is the highest-ranking Honolulu official to be ensnared in the scandal which began with indictments in March 2021. Inouye retired in 2017.

He previously pleaded not guilty. In changing his plea to guilty, he joins Wong and three of his former colleagues: former building plans examiners Kanani Padeken and Jennie Javonillo as well as former building inspector Jason Dadez.

Padeken and Wong signed plea agreements and are scheduled to be sentenced in December. Javonillo pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two and a half years behind bars. Dadez pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months.

One remaining defendant, Jocelyn Godoy, pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to stand trial in January.

Inouye is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi on March 9 at 1:30 p.m.

In a statement, Dawn Takeuchi Apuna, DPP’s acting director, said there is no place for bribery in her department or any city agency.

“We condemn the illegal actions by this former employee and the others who were involved in similar criminal activity,” she said.

According to Takeuchi Apuna, the department is taking short- and longterm steps to “ensure that criminal behavior like this does not happen again.”

“These steps include, but are not limited to, standardizing operating procedures to weed out potential improper practices, removing the backlog of building permit applications to lessen the opportunity for abuse, and internal investigations of suspicious behavior.”

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