After more than a monthlong trial, Brian Ahakuelo, the former manager of a local electrical workers’ union, was convicted Monday of embezzling from workers and falsifying a union vote to raise dues against workers’ wishes. 

After U.S. District Court Judge Helen Gillmor read the jury’s verdict – guilty of 69 counts of conspiracy, fraud, money laundering and embezzlement – Ahakuelo was handcuffed and taken into custody by U.S. Marshals. 

The onetime leader of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260, Ahakuelo was accused by federal prosecutors of using union funds as a “personal piggy bank” for himself and relatives on the union’s payroll. 

During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence showing the family charged the union for personal expenses and first-class trips with dubious union purposes. When money ran low, witnesses said Ahakuelo fraudulently raised union dues on the members. 

Brian Ahakuelo leaves US District Court.
Throughout the case, Brian Ahakuelo projected confidence that he would be acquitted. But the jury found him guilty on 69 counts of conspiracy, fraud, money laundering and embezzlement. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Four former union staffers, who themselves pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the case, testified that they helped Ahakuelo to falsify a union vote in Guam to increase dues. A genuine vote on the matter likely would’ve failed. 

Ahakuelo was charged alongside his wife, Marilyn, and sister-in-law Jennifer Estencion, both of whom he hired at the union. Brian and Marilyn Ahakuelo were convicted on all charges on Monday. Marilyn Ahakuelo was released on bail pending sentencing, which was scheduled for March 28.

Estencion was found not guilty on all counts. 

Attorneys for the Ahakuelos, as well as federal prosecutors, declined to comment after the verdict.

After Estencion’s acquittal, her attorney Randall Hironaka said his client appreciates that the jury was able to separate her actions from those of her brother-in-law. 

“There was a lot of evidence against him,” he said. “She’s grateful. It’s tough. Her sister was just convicted.”

Throughout the case, Ahakuelo maintained his innocence. His attorney, Louis Michael Ching, argued Ahakuelo was the victim of a conspiracy by the union’s international office, which he suggested wanted to unseat his client. 

Union officials denied this, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Albanese said during closing arguments on Friday that there is “zero evidence” to support such a claim.

Brian Ahakuelo’s sister-in-law Jennifer Estencion was found not guilty on all counts. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

Meanwhile, Marilyn Ahakuelo’s lawyer Rebecca Lester argued that the case against her client lacked evidence. The facts prosecutors had shared might “make Brian look bad,” but there was no criminal intent, she said.

After the verdict was read, Albanese asked Gillmor to revoke Brian Ahakuelo’s bail and detain him.

Not only was Ahakuelo the leader of a “criminal enterprise,” Albanese said, but he also submitted “fake evidence” to the court. Some of the defense’s exhibits were “manufactured,” demonstrating the lengths Ahakuelo would go to avoid accountability, the prosecutor added.

Gillmor said she was struck by Ahakuelo’s “repeated disregard for the law” and that Ahakuelo justified his actions with an attitude of “that’s the way it’s always been done.” The judge said she considered Ahakuelo a flight risk and ordered him to be taken into custody.

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