For the first time, the judge identified contractors who allegedly bribed the inspector but were not charged. 

The former chief building inspector in Honolulu will go to prison for five years and pay a hefty fine after he admitted to taking over $100,000 in bribes over the course of several years and trying to cover it up after he got caught.

Wayne Inouye, 66, worked for Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting for 38 years before he retired in 2017. 

Somewhere along the way, he established an arrangement with certain DPP customers: For a fee, he would review their building plans for code compliance before they were even submitted. Prosecutors say he also expedited permit approvals for those who paid him.

“I know that I’ve let a lot of people down, including many good employees at the Department of Planning and Permitting,” Inouye said through tears in court on Wednesday. “And I’ve also tarnished the reputation of the department and for this I’m truly sorry.”

Wayne Inouye, once Honolulu’s chief building inspector, will surrender to federal prison in July. (David Croxford/Civil Beat 2023)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Nolan said Inouye deserved the harshest prison sentence under federal guidelines – just under six years – plus a $200,000 fine. The minimum suggested by the guidelines is about four and a half years in prison.

Nolan noted that Inouye was a supervisor who should be held to a higher standard. 

“Instead of setting an example, he was on the take,” Nolan said. 

Inouye’s attorney, Tommy Otake, asked the court to disregard the sentencing guidelines. A large fine alone would be more appropriate, he said, given Inouye’s lack of criminal history, his age and his remorse. Plus, Otake argued, isn’t the public shame and media attention punishment in itself? 

U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi wasn’t swayed by that. She called Inouye’s crimes a “slap in the face” to public servants who do their jobs honestly and without the expectation of additional compensation. In addition to his prison term, Inouye will have to pay a $100,000 fine.

“Underlying all this is a betrayal of public trust,” Kobayashi said from the bench, adding that corruption creates “disdain for public servants in all sectors, not just in the building department.” 

Inouye’s sentence is intended to be a deterrent to others in public service who may be considering crossing ethical lines, Kobayashi said.

Inouye’s attorney Tommy Otake, left, argued for a fine instead of prison time. The judge was not persuaded. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat 2022)

The judge ordered Inouye to surrender to federal authorities on July 14. He requested to serve his time at the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon. 

Inouye is one of five former DPP employees charged in the federal bribery case. 

Two are already in prison. Jennie Javonillo, 73, is serving a two and a half year sentence for taking more than $63,000 in bribes over the course of a decade. Jason Dadez, 45, was sentenced to 18 months for accepting $9,900 from solar contractors

Jocelyn Godoy, 60, who worked in the data processing and imaging branch, pleaded guilty last week to taking $820 in bribes and is facing potential deportation to the Philippines. She is awaiting sentencing.

Kanani Padeken, 38, pleaded guilty to taking at least $28,000 from an architect between 2017 and 2020. After several delays, her sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 22. 

In a statement, DPP Director Dawn Takeuchi Apuna said Inouye’s sentence aligns with the department’s zero-tolerance position for bribery and favoritism.

“Our citizens deserve honest and equitable service from government employees, and we will continue to look for and remove those who disregard this basic tenet,” she said.

“This also serves as a message to those seeking favoritism from the DPP that this activity is not tolerated. It is unfortunate that the illegal acts of a few tarnish the reputation of the vast majority of employees who work hard each day to serve the public at the highest ethical standard.”

The Cost Of Doing Business  

Of all the DPP bribery cases, Inouye’s was the most egregious, according to Nolan. 

Between 2012 and 2017, Inouye collected over $100,000 from permit applicants, giving them special treatment over others whose applications languished in DPP’s notorious backlog. 

The fact that DPP moves at a “snail’s pace” created opportunities for abuse, Nolan said. 

“In the context of permits to build or renovate a house, time is money,” Nolan said. “Mr. Inouye used his supervisory position to profit from the inefficiencies at DPP, resulting in a cost imposed on and frustration felt by those needing permits.” 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Nolan said Wayne Inouye profited from the Honolulu’s permitting department’s inefficiencies. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The majority of the bribe money identified by the feds came from Bill Wong, an architect, third party reviewer and representative of Asia Pacific Architectural Consultants. From September 2016 to December 2017, Wong gave Inouye over $89,000. 

Wong was charged for his role in the scheme. He pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. 

In a sentencing memo, Otake said it was Wong who approached Inouye for assistance with his building plans before they were submitted to DPP “to lessen the chance of rejection,” Otake wrote. 

“At the time, he wasn’t viewing it as a corrupt bribe,” Otake told the court. “He thought he was providing a service to help people comply with the code in nonworking hours.” 

Wong’s attorney, Bill Harrison, told Civil Beat on Wednesday that it was Inouye who asked his client for money, not the other way around. For Wong, it was the cost of doing business.

“What else are you going to do?” Harrison said. “You’re an architect, your plans are not getting through. Your clients are yelling at you. And there’s a way to get the plans done by a guy who says he’ll take care of it off duty if you pay me. So that’s what my client did.” 

The money flowed for years, even after Inouye left DPP. 

“As he was retiring, Mr. Inouye ensured his corrupt ways would continue on at DPP by introducing and encouraging Mr. Wong to pay bribes to Ms. Padeken,” Nolan said. 

Then Inouye lied after he was busted. He told federal investigators that the money Wong gave him was a loan. He even paid the money back to Wong. 

“There was no loan,” Nolan said. “This was merely obstruction of justice.”

For that, the feds tacked on an additional charge of making a false statement to a federal officer. 

New Contractors Identified 

In his apology to the court, Inouye said the money compensated him for his consulting, not to approve plans that weren’t up to code.

While my goal was to help them comply with the building code, I understand now how these few individuals had an advantage that the general public did not have,” he said. “I understand I violated the public trust in this way, and I am extremely sorry.”

Before handing down Inouye’s sentence, Kobayashi identified others who gave Inouye money but were not charged with crimes. In doing so, the judge deliberately publicized information that would otherwise have been kept secret in a confidential presentencing investigation. 

According to Kobayashi: 

  • From February 2012 to August 2017, Charles Uyemura of Neon Electric Service Ltd. allegedly gave Inouye $3,275
  • From April 2012 to January 2016, David Asato of City Construction allegedly gave Inouye $9,685
  • And from February 2012 to December 2012, William Rotz, the owner of the Honolulu Sign Co., allegedly gave Inouye $1,825

Attempts to reach Uyemura and Asato for comment were unsuccessful. Reached by phone, Rotz denied giving Inouye money. 

“No way did we give any money to Wayne Inouye for any favors or anything like that,” Rotz said. “No, we did not, in any way, shape or form, were we involved in any of that.”

He declined to explain why the FBI believes he was.

“That’s between me and the FBI,” he said. “I’m not going to share that, especially over the phone.”

Inouye will continue to receive state pension payments of about $6,300 a month, Nolan said. A new pension forfeiture law, aimed at garnishing the income of public employees convicted of corruption, will not apply to Inouye. He committed his crimes before it took effect in 2021.

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