Kanani Padeken is the last of six defendants to be sentenced in a bribery scandal at Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting.

A former Honolulu permitting worker who admitted to taking nearly $30,000 in bribes was sentenced on Wednesday to 10 months in prison for her role in the scheme.

A former building plans examiner, Kanani Padeken, 38, admitted to taking cash in exchange for expediting certain applications through Honolulu’s Byzantine permitting process. In a tearful statement to the court, Padeken took responsibility for her actions and expressed remorse for breaking the public’s trust and bringing grief to her family.

“I have no excuse for the crime I committed. It was selfish and greedy,” she said. “I am truly sorry for what I have done.”

A federal judge said he had a duty to make an example of Kanani Padeken. She will report to prison early next year. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Padeken was ordered to report to the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu on Jan. 10. Her prison sentence will be followed by two years of supervised release. Padeken declined to comment outside the courthouse on Wednesday.

The sentence was the shortest prison term included in sentencing guidelines that went up to 16 months. Prosecutors recommended a sentence of 12 months and a day.

The 38-year-old single mom had hoped to get probation or home confinement. Her public defender, Sharron Rancourt, noted at the sentencing hearing that Padeken cooperated with federal investigators as soon as she was caught, had no prior criminal history and is deeply ashamed of her actions.

Since her indictment, Padeken has taken significant steps to rehabilitate herself, Rancourt said, including enrolling at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Padeken said she dreams of one day starting a nonprofit that would seek to educate people about corruption, including the kind that she took part in.

“This is a woman who is working to make amends, to forgive herself and do the best she can to care for the people she loves,” Rancourt said in court. “She knows what she did was wrong. She thinks about it every single day.”

Furthermore, Rancourt argued, prison would not only impact the defendant but also those who rely on her. Padeken has a 12-year-old son to look after and is a caregiver to her grandmother, for whom Padeken administers dialysis, the attorney said.

U.S. District Court Court Judge Derrick Watson expressed sympathy for these arguments. He said he wasn’t concerned about Padeken committing future crimes. In the judge’s view, Padeken herself is already her harshest critic and will have to live with her mistakes.

Padeken’s former supervisor Wayne Inouye was sentenced to five years in prison for bribery. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

But sentencing is also about sending a message to the community and any other people considering committing a similar crime, Watson said while handing down the sentence. A probationary sentence would not send the right message, he said.

“You helped foster that distrust that exists even today, despite all of the efforts of federal law enforcement and prosecutors, to weed out those who participated in this system in this way,” Watson said.  

“That level of distrust is going to take years, maybe even longer, to repair … And you were smack dab in the middle of it.”

Padeken was the last to be sentenced of six people indicted in 2021. Jocelyn Godoy, a former employee of DPP’s data access and imaging branch, was sentenced just last week to 60 days behind bars and two years of supervised release.

Wayne Inouye, Padeken’s former boss, got the longest sentence in the case — five years — in part because of his role as a supervisor and his attempts to lie about his conduct after he was caught.

In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Nolan noted that Inouye, who worked for DPP for nearly 40 years, was a "significant and early contributor" to DPP's culture of corruption. In a sentencing memo arguing for leniency, Padeken's attorney alluded to the same.

"Both the lack of internal controls and the encouragement of her bosses to 'give favors' to important customers, certainly did not help," Rancourt said.

In a statement, the director of the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting, Dawn Takeuchi Apuna, called Padeken's crimes "the ultimate betrayal of the public’s trust."

"While we condemn her actions, we are fully committed to fixing a system that allowed Kanani and four other former DPP employees to accept bribes," Takeuchi Apuna said. 

"DPP is working hard to address core dysfunctions by eliminating the permitting backlog, establishing essential standard operating procedures, and instilling the highest integrity in its operations to prevent any further wrongdoing.  The public deserves no less than timely, effective and fair services, which DPP is wholly dedicated to providing."

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