Choy was involved in several bribery cases but was only charged in one after cooperating with federal prosecutors.

A Honolulu contractor who bribed former Maui County officials and at least two state lawmakers was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in federal prison Tuesday.

Milton Choy was charged with one count of bribery last year after spending more than $2 million over the course of six years bribing Stewart Stant, the former director of Maui’s Department of Environmental Management, in exchange for more than $19 million in no-bid contracts.

He wasn’t charged in other bribery cases after agreeing to cooperate with federal prosecutors in an ongoing investigation into public corruption that has become one of the largest bribery cases in state history.

Choy’s cooperation led to two former legislators, J. Kalani English and Ty Cullen, pleading guilty to honest services wire fraud in February last year. English was sentenced to 40 months in prison while Cullen got two years.

Stant was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for his role in directing nearly $20 million in sole source contracts to one wastewater company.

Milton Choy arrives with Attorney Michael Green at US District Court.
Milton Choy, shown here arriving US District Court in 2022, could have faced up to 10 years in prison but federal prosecutors asked for less due to his cooperation in other cases. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Another Maui wastewater employee, Wilfredo Savella, was also sentenced to more than a year in prison.

“He wasn’t looking for any breaks,” Choy’s attorney, Michael Green, said of his client’s cooperation. “He told them everything he knew about corruption.”

Choy could have faced up to 10 years in prison, but prosecutors filed a sealed motion asking District Judge Derrick Watson to depart from normal sentencing guidelines. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson requested a 36-month sentence.

“He is one of the most valuable cooperators we have ever worked with,” Sorenson said.

Over the course of several years, Choy taped “dozens and dozens” of phone calls and conversations with subjects of the public corruption investigation, according to a portion of the sealed motion read aloud in court.

Watson accepted the motion to depart from sentencing guidelines, but still issued a 41-month sentence that sought to balance the seriousness of Choy’s crimes with the level of assistance he has offered to the FBI over the last several years.

“He appeared to make things right – as right as he could,” Watson said.

“Should we all run out and buy him a ‘Thank You’ card, maybe not. But we do all owe him,” the judge later said.

Choy has to surrender to authorities on Oct. 10.

Choy will also be required to forfeit $4 million, which represents an approximate net profit on the contracts his company, H2O Process Systems, made off of the Maui contracts. 

It’s not clear how he will pay for that. Watson, summarizing a section of Choy’s presentence report, said that his income streams are “in serious question” and that the state of his business “is not secure.”

The case has had a tremendous impact on Choy’s family, which was unaware of his crimes until he was named publicly as the informant who bribed Cullen and English, the former lawmakers.

In a heartfelt statement to the court, Choy apologized to the people of Maui, where much of the bribery took place, as well as his family. He recounted telling his wife of his crimes.

“It was like she was looking at a stranger, a man she couldn’t respect,” he said. “I hope one day she can forgive me.”

Choy’s plea agreement stipulates that he will continue cooperating with the government’s investigation. Quoting from a sealed government motion, Watson said that “we may have not seen yet the end result of the defendant’s assistance.”

Attorney Green said that neither he nor Choy will ask for additional time off of Choy’s sentence, even if he is roped back into the investigation or to testify before a grand jury.

“He’s agreed to cooperate till the end,” Green said.

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