Officials with the Dawson companies would only say they are cooperating with the federal investigation so it’s unclear what the case is about.

WASHINGTON — Federal authorities executed a search warrant earlier this week at the Honolulu offices of Dawson, a conglomerate of Native Hawaiian-owned companies that receive tens of millions of dollars in government contracts, mostly from the Department of Defense. 

Details of the investigation, however, remain murky.

According to witnesses, federal agents including from the IRS appeared at Dawson’s Honolulu headquarters Tuesday morning and confiscated company computers and cell phones. 

Employees and others associated with the company who did not want to be identified described the visit as a “raid.” They said they were told to leave the premises as the agents conducted their work. 

As of Wednesday, Dawson’s Honolulu offices were still closed.

Dawson group tax evasion fbi law enforcement raid
Dawson’s offices in Honolulu were closed this week after federal agents executed a search warrant there. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

In a statement to Civil Beat, Dawson said that its parent organization, the Hawaiian Native Corp., is “cooperating with the government’s efforts to obtain records for a federal investigation and will continue to assist investigators.” 

“Transparency is very important to our organization and we intend to provide all requested information,” the statement said. “This investigation does not impact our operations or our ability to serve and support our federal government clients.” 

Company officials refused to discuss details of the investigation.

Officials from the FBI and IRS also declined to comment on the investigation.

Christopher Dawson is the founder of the Dawson companies.

The Hawaiian Native Corp. is classified as a Native Hawaiian organization under the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) business development program, which allows its companies to receive sole source contracts from the Department of Defense and avoid the competitive bidding process.

Pioneer Plaza building 900 Fort Street Mall Dawson group tax evasion fbi law enforcement raid
DAWSON’s Hawaii headquarters are located in the Pioneer Plaza in downtown Honolulu. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Under the program, the HNC and other so-called Native 8(a)s — such as those controlled by Native American tribes and Alaska Natives — are supposed to use a portion of their profits to give back to their communities, including by supporting cultural programs, scholarships and economic development. 

The Hawaiian Native Corp. includes 11 for-profit companies, and the organization says that it employs nearly 1,200 people who work in 42 states and 14 countries. It has offices located across the country, including in Honolulu, Colorado and Virginia.

Officials at the company’s Virginia office also declined to speak to a reporter about the federal investigation.

The companies specialize in everything from cyber security and construction to conservation and building maintenance.

According to the HNC, it supports Native Hawaiian institutions and programs across the islands, including sponsoring light displays at Iolani Palace and the broadcast of the Merrie Monarch Festival.

Dawson himself is a regular contributor to federal campaigns, and has donated tens of thousands of dollars to various candidates over the years, including Hawaii U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and former U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele. 

Federal Election Commission records show Dawson also donated more than $50,000 to President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign. 

In recent years, Dawson’s companies have been pushing Congress to expand Native Hawaiian contracting opportunities through the 8(a) program.

Since 2021, federal lobbying disclosure reports show HNC has spent $180,000 on lobbying efforts through the firm Strategies 360.

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