Bobby Aiu, the ex-husband of Sen. Donna Kim, disregarded procedures at the DEA, blasted his bosses to the governor, dressed down members of the public and even sued his brother over a horse.

Passed over for one of the top jobs at the state department where he works, Bobby Aiu wrote a letter to Gov. Josh Green in January blasting his bosses.

As has been his custom for several decades of government service, Aiu didn’t hold back in his criticisms of Green’s appointees to run the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

“Their performance or lack thereof, at the recent Senate committee hearings was embarrassing and has brought adverse attention to our beloved DCCA,” he wrote about his two top bosses. “Further, it confirmed my personal appraisal that two passive personalities absolutely cannot lead an important oversight … department such as DCCA.”

Robert Aiu — testifying this year to a legislative committee — mentioned his past as a special agent for the DEA and a chief of staff in 2014 and ’15 for his ex-wife, Donna Kim, then the Senate president. (Screenshot/2023)

Several weeks later, the pugnacious public servant fired off a similarly brusque email to Evan and Jaimie Nagle, a Kaaawa couple who had complained to the Regulated Industries Complaints Office, where Aiu works as an investigator, about a kitchen contractor.

“Your complaint was disingenuous at the very least, and false at worst,” Aiu wrote Evan Nagle in March.  “I/RICO do not appreciate such apparent finagling by anyone dealing with this agency …

“Future complaints by you will be placed on a ‘Scrutinize/Review’ list to obviate unnecessary work by RICO investigators.”

When Evan Nagle, who had provided copious documents and answered many questions, tried to clarify details he had already shared with another RICO investigator, Aiu fired back: “There was no miscommunication … RICO does not play games.”

A few weeks later, Aiu’s keyboard heated up again. This time, his target was James DiPasquale, the attorney for Scarlet Honolulu, a gay nightclub that had named Aiu in a lawsuit but recently dropped him and another state worker. 

“You did this because any judge with half a brain would have dismissed us anyway (and chastised you along the way),” Aiu wrote the lawyer from his DCCA email account. “You are a disgrace to the profession, and a liar. This equates to you being an idiot and a bonehead.”

Aiu said he would report DiPasquale to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which investigates attorney misconduct. “Be prepared to respond to ODC,” he wrote.

When DiPasquale raised the possibility that Aiu might still be included in the litigation, Aiu responded, “Bring it on, bonehead.”

DiPasquale then looped in DCCA’s attorney, asking him to tell Aiu to stop communicating with his office and pointing out that Aiu was using official state email. Aiu protested that “I merely responded to his idiotic comments to me in an attempt to intimidate me. I have nothing further to say to bonehead anyway.”

So who is this acid-tongued government official? And how does he get away with bashing his bosses, dressing down members of the public seeking help and insulting lawyers from his state email account?

It turns out that his run of invective in 2023 is just the latest example of a law enforcement and public service career marked by combative and rogue behavior. That career has included stints at the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, a private firm that provides airport security, the Hawaii Senate and RICO.

Aiu is the ex-husband of state Sen. Donna Kim, who 15 years after their divorce hired him as her chief of staff when she was Senate president. Their son Micah Aiu was elected last year to the House.

Senator Donna Mercado Kim.
Sen. Donna Mercado Kim hired her ex-husband as chief of staff in 2014 and 2015. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

He’s the son of a famed Kauai paniolo. Bobby, in fact, got involved in a protracted lawsuit with his brother over a horse named Dr. J that had been bought as a gift for their dad. His brother at one point accused him in court documents of trying three times to take the horse from its Kauai pasture, obliging him to put extra security in place.

He began his long career in law enforcement in 1971 for the predecessor agency of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and in 27 years as a special agent got 23 consecutive outstanding performance evaluations.

But he also led a high-profile case against Japanese yakuza that in 1986 resulted in three embarrassing acquittals. The yakuza boss called the agents who investigated him “dumb.”

Honolulu Star-Bulletin story on acquittal in yakuza case led by Bobby Aiu
This Honolulu Star-Bulletin story details the acquittal in a yakuza case led by Bobby Aiu. (Screenshot/newspapers.com)

Promoted to a DEA supervisor in Honolulu, his behavior prompted complaints from underlings. After he was demoted, he filed a discrimination lawsuit. But a judge later found that a transfer to Texas in 2001 was warranted because of Aiu’s disruptive conduct and “his aggressive, hostile behavior towards his subordinates.”

Aiu in 1994 grabbed then-Honolulu Advertiser reporter James Dooley and pushed him up against a wall at the federal courthouse in Honolulu, angry about questions Dooley had supposedly been asking about his then-wife Donna Kim and her relationship to a Hawaii businessman, according to a book the journalist later wrote. Turned out it was all a mistake, Dooley wrote – someone posing as Dooley had called someone else asking questions about Kim, and that person relayed the false information to Aiu.

“I told Aiu I didn’t know what he was talking about and that he had no right to manhandle a reporter in the federal courthouse,” Dooley wrote. “I said that I had asked no such questions about his wife” and the businessman, “and even if I had, they were both public figures and fair game for reporters’ questions.”

Aiu eventually found his way to RICO where, in 2016, he made an unannounced visit on a Saturday to the Scarlet Honolulu nightclub. 

Aiu said he was investigating an anonymous complaint that the nightclub was using unlicensed contractors. But Scarlet’s owners said the supposed complaint appeared to be a pretext.

Scarlet had sued a contractor for failing to build a restaurant next door by the promised deadline. Aiu, they said, pressured them to settle. 

The whole episode seemed highly irregular, if not surreal. They had made no complaint to RICO – why was a RICO investigator getting involved in their contractor lawsuit? Why was there no case number for the anonymous complaint, and why had normal RICO protocols not been followed?

“It was clear we were being shaken down by somebody in the old-boy network,” said Robbie Baldwin, Scarlet’s owner.

Scarlet Honolulu owner Robbie Baldwin.
Scarlet Honolulu owner Robbie Baldwin says he was clearly being shaken down by a state investigator, Bobby Aiu, in order to convince him to drop a lawsuit against a contractor. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

DCCA Won’t Address Aiu’s Behavior

DCCA declined an interview request on Aiu’s actions as a state employee and did not respond to several written questions, citing the Scarlet Honolulu lawsuit. Even though Aiu has been dropped from the lawsuit, DCCA said, he could still be added again.

The department did acknowledge that he has worked there since 2012, except for a one-year hiatus in 2014 and ‘15 when he has said he worked as chief of staff for Donna Kim. Aiu is now a RICO Investigator IV making $71,268 per year.

DCCA declined to provide any complaints against Aiu by members of the public, citing the privacy interests of public employees against disclosure of information from their personnel files that did not result in suspension or dismissal.

Aiu did not return requests for an interview via his phone number and work and personal email accounts. This story is based on public records, including court records, and interviews with those who have had encounters with Aiu.

He was born and raised on Kauai, where his father Harold was a well-known paniolo, or cowboy. Eight times, Harold was honored as best all-round cowboy for Kauai, according to a column by former Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Civil Beat columnist Lee Cataluna after he died in 2009 just short of his 89th birthday.

Harold still competed in rodeos into his 80s, Cataluna wrote.

“Oh, he loved to dance,” Bobby Aiu told Cataluna. “When he was young, he used to go to all the community dances. That’s how he met my mom.”

Bobby Aiu joined the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in 1971, according to a later court document in his discrimination case. He would have been 21 or 22.

In addition to his 23-year run of outstanding performance evaluations, he was named the federal officer of the year for Hawaii in 1984. In 1996, the United States Marshals Service honored him as national law enforcement officer of the year.

But a case Aiu led in the mid-1980s that he described as “the most significant one ever worked by the DEA in Hawaii” went badly off track.

The target was Masashi Takenaka, described in media accounts at the time as a top leader of the largest organized crime group in Japan. Two other alleged yakuza were also indicted on drug and weapons charges after a year-long investigation by Aiu and other federal undercover agents posing as Hawaii gangsters.  

As part of the investigation, Aiu and other agents laid out a smorgasbord of weaponry, including a rocket launcher. Takenaka responded that the rocket launcher would be a good weapon to take out a rival yakuza who was always guarded, Aiu said, according to media accounts.

A photo entered into a federal court case and reproduced in the newspaper shows alleged yakuza testing weapons provided by undercover DEA agents.
A photo entered into a federal court case and reproduced in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin shows alleged yakuza testing weapons provided by undercover DEA agents. (Screenshot/newspapers.com)

The defendants were alleged to have conspired to buy 100 handguns, five machine guns and three rocket launchers. Aiu said in an affidavit that one yakuza offered to pay him and others $50,000 to assassinate a rival with one of the rocket launchers, media accounts at the time said.

But at trial, the yakuza told a much different story. They said their real purpose in Hawaii had been to recover money from the main DEA informant in the case, a former professional wrestler, who had been paid by the yakuza to arrange a Michael Jackson concert in Japan. 

They suspected they had been conned by the DEA informant to the tune of $550,000 – and a Hawaii jury five years later agreed with them. The informant, who was also being paid by the DEA, had told Takenaka that he and Aiu would “lose face” with another of the fake Hawaii gangsters if Takenaka did not fork over large sums for the Jackson concert.

As for their meetings with the DEA agents, including Aiu, they explained their apparent assent to the proposed crimes as simple politeness.

The U.S. agents had lavished Takenaka and the others with attention. They paid for Takenaka’s travel, arranged for a visa, even bought him a dog, an aloha shirt and a trip to Disneyland, according to media accounts. And one of the agents had promised to help him get his money back from the Michael Jackson caper.

“I guess I was being very Japanese,” Takenaka testified. “I said yes, I was being agreeable.”

But he said he never gave his final approval for the drug or gun deals.

The case also was undermined by Hong Kong authorities, who had been cooperating with the sting, seizing 18 pounds of narcotics on its way to Hawaii, forcing the DEA to arrest the defendants earlier than expected, Dooley wrote in his book.

After the acquittals, before he flew back to Japan, Takenaka had some harsh words for the undercover agents, saying he’d been the victim of “dirty tactics” and entrapment.

“They did it in such a dumb way,” he said. 

His lawyer, meanwhile, said she was “shocked at the nature of the evidence and the way the government conducted the case.” Even the jurors blasted the government for being unprepared.

Aiu’s Tenure As DEA Boss Goes Haywire

In 1998, Aiu was promoted to be a group supervisor in the Honolulu DEA office.

But that same year, while he was still on probation, an anonymous letter circulated amongst the DEA staff criticizing Aiu’s leadership. 

The special agent in charge of the Hawaii office informed the DEA administration in California that tensions in the office had gotten so bad because of the accusations that he could not guarantee the safety of his agents, according to a court document in Aiu’s later discrimination case. 

Bosses from Los Angeles flew to Hawaii and interviewed Aiu’s subordinates, who reported that he failed to supervise, used unsafe field tactics, played favorites with local agents and allowed his cousin Tommy Aiu to take part in arrests despite orders not to.

Bobby Aiu was demoted in early 1999. A month later, he filed a claim alleging that the DEA was biased against Asians and Pacific Islanders. The DEA administrator reinstated him a few months later after his discrimination claim was shared with Hawaii’s two U.S. senators at the time, Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye. 

But after an internal investigation found misconduct in early 2000, the DEA demoted him again. 

Aiu won an appeal in 2001 on procedural grounds. But then the DEA transferred him to Texas, finding that his continued service in Hawaii would be an “undue disruption.”

Six years later, the discrimination case was resolved when a federal judge granted summary judgment to the government. 

The Department of Justice, the parent agency of the DEA, argued that it had good reason to demote Aiu and put him on leave, including his routine disregard for DEA arrest and reporting procedures and agents’ distrust of him.

The judge found that Aiu was unable to meet the legal burden of showing that these legitimate causes were really a pretext for racial discrimination.

A Family Feud Over A Horse

A few years later, Aiu was back in court. This time, he was duking it out not with his bosses, but with his brother, who like his cousin is named Tommy. 

It all started in 2003 when the Aius’ mother gave Tommy $1,200 to buy the horse as a gift for their father, Harold. 

Over the years, both brothers used Dr. J for roping and other rodeo events. But Bobby argued in his complaint that it had always been clear that the horse belonged to his father.

Not long before his death in 2009, Harold Aiu wrote a letter to Bobby saying he wanted him to have Dr. J in recognition of Bobby’s gift many years earlier of one of the paniolo’s favorite steeds, Blondi.

But after Harold’s death, Tommy revealed for the first time that the bill of sale for Dr. J had actually been made out to him.

Tommy, in his response and a counterclaim, argued that he not only owned the horse but had taught Dr. J various rodeo tricks and over the years paid for Dr. J’s food and vet bills, and trimmed and filed his hooves.

Dr. J, meanwhile, seems to have made several crossings of the channel between Oahu and Kauai as the brothers battled. He’d lived on Kauai for years, but when the suit was filed in 2010, Dr. J was on Oahu – the result, Tommy alleged, of Bobby stealing him.

Then, in 2011, after Bobby had shipped the horse to Kauai for rodeo and roping events, Tommy “seized and sequestered” Dr. J at an unknown location, according to Bobby’s attorney.

Then came Bobby’s three attempts to get him back, according to Tommy’s court filings. As a result, Tommy said, he was forced to add security at pasture gates and send ranch hands on additional patrols. 

Despite an attempt at mediation between what Bobby’s lawyer described as the “formerly close” brothers, the dispute mushroomed to include another horse named Clyde. The venue was changed from Oahu to Kauai, but then, it appears from the court docket, neither side did anything and the case was dismissed for inactivity.

An Unexpected Visit From A RICO Investigator

It was a different lawsuit that led to Aiu’s first interaction with gay nightclub Scarlet Honolulu.

Scarlet had sued its contractor, Pro Build, over what it alleged was the contractor’s failure to renovate a restaurant adjacent to the nightclub by the agreed-upon date and to return a $25,000 deposit.

After appearing at the nightclub unannounced on a Saturday afternoon and flashing his badge, Aiu talked to  Rob Sobieralski, the roommate of the owner Robbie Baldwin, about the anonymous complaint and whether Scarlet workers were allowed to put up drywall without a license, according to an email Sobieralski wrote at the time to the club’s attorney and others.

The owners of Scarlet Honolulu filed a lawsuit against a contractor who was supposed to revamp an adjacent restaurant. That led to an unexpected visit from Bobby Aiu. (Screenshot/Hawaii News Now)

Then the conversation shifted to Pro Build and its owner Ken Lau. Aiu asked how much Scarlet would settle for and said that “by law” the nightclub had to give the company a chance to correct its errors, according to the email. Being a couple of months late in finishing a job, he said, did not justify a lawsuit.

If the nightclub didn’t settle, Aiu said, Scarlet’s landlord – prominent Honolulu attorney Bill McCorriston – could have “problems,” according to Sobieralski’s account.

The attorney, Jonathan Spiker, told his clients that it was unusual for a state investigator just to show up like that out of the blue. Instead, he said, an investigator would usually ask for documents and cite the law that was allegedly violated before meeting with the subjects of the complaint.  

Not to mention that the supposed violations had nothing to do with the nightclub’s lawsuit against a contractor. 

DCCA declined to answer questions about whether Aiu’s actions conformed to its normal procedures, citing the Scarlet lawsuit that has since dropped Aiu as a defendant.

Aiu later told Spiker that he would not be pursuing the investigation.

But five years later, during the pandemic, Aiu clashed again with the nightclub.

It happened a few days after an altercation between hired security guards and investigators for the Honolulu Liquor Commission. Two agents tried to walk through the door without presenting badges or proof of vaccination, as was required at the time, according to a lawsuit Scarlet later filed. The complaint alleges one of the investigators assaulted a security guard and one of Scarlet’s owners. 

As he did in 2016, Aiu told Scarlet he was investigating an anonymous complaint, this time involving unlicensed security. He demanded to know the names of the security guards, and followed up in writing.

But Scarlet said the DCCA director later told them there had been no complaint. Besides, the security guards were not employed by Scarlet but by a contractor.

Scarlet concluded that liquor commission agents had called in Aiu to harass them and complained about Aiu’s conduct to DCCA, which said it would investigate. But the person doing it would be his direct supervisor, Kristen Kimoto. The nightclub said she asked questions that clearly showed she had consulted with Aiu about both the 2016 and 2021 incidents. 

When attorney DiPasquale mentioned this to Kimoto, he says he got an email from Aiu in less than two hours.

“Mr. DiPasquale:

“I will be filing a complaint with ODC against you for making false statements,

“Robert Aiu”

Concluding Kimoto could not be impartial, Scarlet asked that someone else look into what happened. But the request was denied and no action was apparently ever taken against Aiu. 

DCCA declined to answer a question about whether it’s standard to have an immediate supervisor investigate a complaint about that worker.

Aiu Dresses Down A Couple With A Complaint

For Evan and Jaimie Nagle, the hostile missive from Aiu came as a shock. (Evan’s company does work for Civil Beat.)

Their dispute with a contractor began in October when, after the completion of two deck projects that cost more than expected, they decided to cancel a kitchen renovation. They asked for receipts for any materials that the contractor had already bought for the kitchen so that they could determine how much of their deposit they could expect to get back. 

Evan Nagle says that Aiu sent him abusive emails despite his openness with RICO about his contractor complaint. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

In December, when the contractor didn’t provide the receipts, they complained to RICO. That same day, Evan Nagle said, the contractor did produce them – but they contained invoices for the deck renovation that the Nagles believed were questionable. 

The Nagles say they handed over 50 documents to the original intake worker and corresponded with her over several weeks. 

When Aiu got involved, it seemed all of that was for naught. 

At first, Aiu seemed to side with the Nagles against their contractor.

“This is to advise you that as RICO’s case investigator, I have determined that the potential violations in this matter appear to be so statutorily egregious that regardless and separate of a settlement, I will be referring this matter for prosecution,” he wrote to the contractor.

Two days later, Aiu had done an about-face and instead seemed fixated on the Nagles not mentioning the deck contracts in their original complaint.

But Evan asked how he could have been expected to bring up the disputed deck charges in his original complaint when the contractor had not yet produced them. He says he also mentioned the deck contracts to Aiu five different times.

That’s not how Aiu saw it. “Throughout our brief email interaction, you also failed to mention the other work” the contractor did for the Nagles, he wrote in March. “RICO does not play games, we consider all complaints extremely serious matters, and will eventually determine the truth.”

The Nagles have since made a formal complaint to RICO.

“I had hoped that RICO would be an advocate for, or, at the very least, a voice of reason in that fight,” the complaint states. “Instead, Mr. Aiu told me, in so many words, that I was a finagling pariah, that I had wasted precious government resources, and that I should never stand up for myself again.”

They had been a couple of thousand dollars apart on settling with the contractor, but Aiu’s intervention blew it up. 

“He stepped in like a bull in the china shop,” Evan said, “and completely broke down any chance that Jaimie and I had of getting our money back.”

Greater Ambitions?

Aiu, at the age of 73, harbors hopes to help lead DCCA.

He wrote the January letter to Gov. Green after he applied unsuccessfully to become deputy director. At Green’s behest, the new deputy, Dean Hazama, instead offered Aiu a job as a manager, according to Aiu’s letter.

But Aiu wrote that he didn’t want to work directly for Hazama or the new director, Nadine Ando, because of what he perceived as their weak leadership skills.

Still, his ambitions remained intact.

“If the deputy position ever becomes vacant again, I would gladly serve; and without question, perform positively for DCCA, the Governor’s office, and Hawaii’s consumers and businesses,” he wrote.

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