UPDATE: The director of the city permitting department said the office was “susceptible to exploitation” but she’s working to fix it.

The bribes totaled less than the cost of a month’s rent for many Honolulu residents: $820.25.

But Jocelyn Godoy, a 60-year-old Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting employee, could go to prison and get deported to the Philippines for taking it.

On Wednesday, Godoy pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting bribes from an architect. He rewarded her for sharing digital files of building plans. Otherwise, he would have had to make a trip to the county’s office for hard copies, federal prosecutor Craig Nolan told the court.

Jocelyn Godoy appeared in U.S. District Court on Wednesday to enter her guilty plea. (David Croxford/Civil Beat 2023)

“I didn’t do my job right,” Godoy told U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson. “Emailing the documents and accepting cash or gifts.”

Godoy’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 30. She is facing a maximum of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine, as well as restitution.

Nolan and Victor Bakke, Godoy’s attorney, declined to comment at the courthouse.

Godoy pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud. Between September 2019 and November 2020, she used her position in DPP’s Data Access and Imaging Branch to dole out favors in exchange for gifts, the prosecution said.

In exchange for Godoy’s guilty plea to one count of her indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s office agreed to drop two other counts. Part of the deal requires Godoy to testify honestly at future hearings, trials or grand juries, but whether she will have to do so is unclear. Nolan declined to say whether there is an ongoing investigation.

In approving the plea deal, Watson emphasized to Godoy that deportation is “a real possibility here that you should be aware of.” Godoy said she understood that. After the hearing, Godoy said she has lived in the United States since 1971.

Godoy is the fifth and final DPP worker to plead guilty in the case that began with federal indictments in 2021.

Jennie Javonillo, who admitted to taking over $63,000 in bribes over the course of a decade, is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence. Jason Dadez, who took at least $9,900 from solar contractors, got an 18-month sentence.

Bill Wong, the architect and third-party reviewer who handed out money for favors, has also pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Two other former DPP workers, Kanani Padeken and Wayne Inouye, are awaiting sentencing.

In a statement, DPP Director Dawn Takeuchi Apuna said the corruption cases are indicative of longstanding systemic problems in the department.

“The indictments were a by-product of a system that has lacked basic infrastructure, including standard operating procedures and systems of accountability,” she said. “Combined with a permitting backlog, DPP was susceptible to exploitation.”

Takeuchi Apuna noted that the department has taken steps to improve.

“To prevent further wrongdoing, the DPP is building standard processes and systems that instruct and guide employees how to properly perform their jobs and to instill accountability,” she said. “The Department has conducted numerous investigations in the past two years to better understand where exploitation may be happening and to demonstrate that there are consequences for any alleged wrongdoing.”

On Wednesday, Godoy told the court she remains employed with the City and County of Honolulu and holds another job.

Records Civil Beat obtained from a public records request indicate Godoy has been on paid administrative leave with the city for more than two years.

It’s not the first time the city has paid someone not to work for an extended period of time after they were accused of wrongdoing. Another DPP building inspector who admitted to taking cash from a homeowner in 2018 was also put on paid leave for two years. That employee resigned after Civil Beat wrote about her case.

Takeuchi Apuna said that civil service rules require the city to pay employees who are under investigation “until a complete deliberative process and determination can be made of any alleged wrongdoing.”

The Department of Planning and Permitting had little to say about Godoy’s employment moving forward.

“We will review any updates to her plea status and address it accordingly,” DPP spokesman Curtis Lum said. “However, because this is a personnel matter, we have no other details to share at this time.”

Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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