Members of IBEW 1260 had to pick up the pieces after former business manager Brian Ahakuelo and his wife were convicted.

When Leroy Chincio, the new business manager for IBEW 1260, introduces himself and is asked how long he has been with the electrical workers union, he makes sure to be clear: “I never worked for Brian.”

“I came in the aftermath,” he said. “I cleaned up the mess.”

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That mess — including charges of wire fraud, the embezzlement of a labor union asset, conspiracy and money laundering — belonged to Brian Ahakuelo.

He was the head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260 from 2011 to 2016, before he and his wife, Marilyn, were arrested and convicted in November in Honolulu of crimes against fellow members.

Multiple attempts were made to reach Brian Ahakuelo for this story through his attorney, Caroline Elliot of the Attorneys for Freedom Law Firm, but she declined to respond.

For members of IBEW 1260, such as senior assistant business manager Alvis “A.J.” Satele, however, the financial loss that the union experienced wasn’t the worst thing that the Ahakuelos did to the organization.

“The money that they stole was actually secondary to the biggest problem that they created, which is the lack of trust, not being able to trust the union officials to do what a union is supposed to be doing,” Satele said.

Brian Ahakuelo leaves US District Court.
Brian Ahakuelo was the head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260 from 2011 to 2016. He has been convicted of embezzling from workers and falsifying a union vote to raise dues. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

In a relatively short amount of time, Ahakuelo transformed a $700,000 union surplus into a $700,000 debt, according to court records, and falsified a union vote to increase member dues to make up for it. Altogether, the rigged vote led to $3.7 million being unduly collected from union members, part of which Ahakuelo then embezzled in various ways. He went to jail and is awaiting sentencing, but his fellow electrical workers were left with the aftermath. 

Revenues from member dues are supposed to be used on union activities, such as paying for staff salaries, supporting necessary travel costs, covering overhead costs, paying employees for lost time and legal fees. The Ahakuelos were accused of using the funds to support lavish lifestyles, including for family members.

Unions collect enormous sums from members in the forms of dues and in return assume the responsibility of keeping that money safe and spending it wisely. Dues differ from union to union. At IBEW 1260 they are about 2% of each electrical worker’s pay.

Money Returned To Members

In 2022, the chapter collected nearly $6 million in dues and agency fees, and the national headquarters reported over $500 million in assets that year, according to spending reports filed by IBEW 1260 and the IBEW national headquarters with the U.S Department of Labor.

The IBEW’s international media director Matthew Spence declined a request for an interview. Instead, he provided a statement saying Local 1260 had been placed under international trusteeship after irregularities were discovered in 2016. The Ahakuelos were then expelled from the union after internal union hearings, the statement said.

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The statement also said roughly $3.75 million was returned to members. However, Chincio, the new business manager, said the situation was more complicated than it appeared.

Each member who overpaid dues as a result of the fraudulent vote had the money returned and no members were lost as a direct effect of the trusteeship being created. Chincio said.

However, in order to pay back the members, IBEW 1260 had to take out a loan from the international organization. So that means, technically speaking, that the members still had to pay for the Ahakuelos’ misdeeds.

“At that time, basically, 1260 was bankrupt,” Chincio said. “We wouldn’t have survived without a loan.” 

With such financial problems and pressures looming, union members voted to increase their dues yet again; only this time, the voting process was legitimate.

“We held close to 100 meetings to explain the situation we were in, the options we had,” Chincio said. “The members legally voted to increase the dues, of course not as high as Brian did, but we did have a small dues increase, which helped us pay back the loan.”

Marilyn Ahakuelo was found guilty of helping her husband falsify the dues vote and sentenced to nearly six years in prison. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Chincio had stints as assistant business manager for the union from 2008 to 2010, then worked as assistant business manager in 2016, when the local union was placed into trusteeship. He became the business manager in 2020. 

Taking over during this tumultuous situation was a decision that Chincio said he made because he said he owed his entire career to the union.

When the news initially broke about Ahakuelo being removed from the job, Chincio was still working for Hawaiian Electric Co. as the construction superintendent.

“I could tell you there was some jubilation as far as the Hawaiian Electric members,” Chincio said. “They were happy that Brian was out.” 

Hawaiian Electric employs a large number of the IBEW 1260 members. Court documents show that it and other companies employing IBEW 1260 members, including Maui Electric Co., were sent withholding information by Brian Ahakuelo based on the falsified vote he engineered to increase membership dues, and that caused the companies to withhold more money.

“We wouldn’t have survived without a loan.” 

Leroy Chincio, the new business manager for IBEW 1260

Even though the actions of these single individuals stained the legacy of the chapter, Chincio acknowledged, he does not believe that their actions reflect the membership as a whole. He credits the resiliency of the local union for not giving up when it was placed into trusteeship even though that would have been the easiest route to take.

“The membership did the opposite, we stood strong,” he said. “We accepted that we had to move forward.”

‘A Black Eye’ For Unions

About 22% of workers in Hawaii belong to unions, the highest rate in the nation, according to a 2022 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Assistant business manager Satele joined IBEW 1260 in 2014, meaning he was new to the union at the time of the crimes. But he said he never thought about quitting.

“It was stressful, it was upsetting, but adversity can bring the worst and it can bring the best out of people,” he said. “That was really a black eye for us. It was embarrassing, it made a lot of people rise up and say, you know we are upset, but what do we do about it? What do we do to avoid this?”

As far as whether he had any suspicions of the misdoings, Satele said he follows the Hawaii style of respecting elders. He was still fairly new to the union at the time, too, he said, but some things didn’t add up for him, like some of the vote tallies.

“There were definitely questions, like OK this doesn’t add up, this was clearly voted down when we did our vote in-person,” he said. “But it’s still going through? How is this happening?”

Despite the heavy toll on the finances and reputation of IBEW 1260, Satele said, the silver lining in all this has been that there has been more union involvement from members and higher meeting attendance since the 2016 revelations.

The negative publicity in a place like Hawaii, where everybody knows everybody, Satele said, created a sense of urgency among members to fix the problem. 

“It raised doubts from members on what was going on, being that a lot of us didn’t really know, but it also rallied the troops to get more involved, so we know what’s going on, ask the tough questions, be involved in the meetings, and really that’s the core of the union,” Satele said. “It’s the membership and not so much the staff.”

Restoring Trust

When the union held a vote to raise the dues again, Satele credits the international organization for explaining to the members exactly why the dues needed to be increased. 

Chincio said the union has increased transparency, which has helped the chapter move forward. But he knows the effort to regain trust is a work in progress.

“It’s not all rainbows and unicorns here,” Chincio said. “We definitely still get mistrust.”

Brian Akahuelo’s wife, Marilyn, who was found to have helped her husband falsify the dues vote, was found guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud, and embezzlement. She was sentenced to nearly six years in prison in late March.

Similarly, Brian Ahakuelo was convicted on all charges, including embezzlement of labor union assets, after it was found that he paid his son-in-law nearly $30,000 between March 26 and May 6 in 2016, even though the son-in-law performed little to no union work. Brian Ahakuelo is in custody awaiting sentencing.

IBEW Local Union 1260 Main Office.
Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260 have had to pick up the pieces after the union’s former business manager Brian Ahakuelo was convicted of several charges. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

A recent judgment on a similar case that involved the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142, showed Charles Brown, 64, from Millani, sentenced to 24 months. 

Brown, who was the secretary treasurer for ILWU 142, was found guilty of embezzling $96,000 of union funds, another blow to union trustworthiness.

Satele said the sentencing of Marilyn Ahakuelo and the future sentencing of Brian Ahakuelo won’t fully clear the legacy of IBEW 1260 but will provide closure.

“I can’t wait to turn the page on this and move forward,” he said.

Knowing that justice was served was healing in a way, Chincio said, but he added that he and others he knew felt that the sentence was too lenient.   

“The money, we’ve moved forward. We came back, but the trust that they broke, not just at 1260, but for all unions,” he said.

On the day of Marilyn Ahakuelo’s sentencing, Chincio said he was at work, but he took some time off to go to the courthouse to see it for himself. As he exited the courtroom after the ruling, he was surrounded by journalists and made comments on video saying that authorities should “throw away the key” for the Ahakuelos. Chincio said those comments reflected his raw emotions at the time.

Throughout their trials, both of the Ahakuelos failed to appear remorseful, something that did not go unnoticed by the union members.

“It helps that justice is served, but the smugness and entitlement (they showed) still boils everybody’s blood,” Chincio said.

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