A Hawaii Health Department employee is being ordered to pay the state $25,000 after he used inspections of adult care homes to find real estate clients, according to a Hawaii State Ethics Commission notice published on Friday.

Roel Salanga was a nurse consultant for the Department of Health’s Office of Health Care Assurance and was responsible for performing on-site inspections of adult residential care homes. During one inspection in 2018, Salanga offered his real estate services to the operator.

Over the next year, he sent her emails on state time on over 20 occasions, the commission said. He ultimately earned a $22,750 commission for his real estate brokerage firm, out of which he received $9,947.50. Meanwhile and afterward, Salanga was still the inspector of the woman’s care home.

During a March 2019 inspection of another care home, Salanga again offered his real estate services to the operator. However, that connection did not result in a sale.

Salanga’s admitted behavior amounts to a violation of Hawaii’s Fair Treatment Law, the commission wrote, because he attempted to use his position “to obtain unwarranted advantages for himself and the real estate brokerage firm he worked for,” the notice states. He also admitted to working on real estate during state time, according to the notice.

“State inspectors must be sensitive to the power they have over persons and businesses they inspect: State regulators may not solicit private employment from, or otherwise attempt to engage in private financial transactions or business arrangements with, those whom they regulate,” the commission stated. “Such solicitations by a state employee are inherently coercive and amount to a misuse of the employee’s official position.”

Hawaii’s Conflicts of Interests Law also prohibits state employees from taking action in their official capacities when it would directly affect their own financial interests. Salanga admitted to violating that rule, the notice states.

The commission noted that Salanga had never been a subject of a state ethics investigation before and that he cooperated fully with its review. In addition to the fine, the commission referred the matter to DOH “for further disciplinary action as appropriate.”

Salanga did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday afternoon.

In a statement, DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the department cooperated fully with the ethics commission’s investigation, will review its report and take “appropriate action.”

“The Department of Health considers any complaint that alleges wrongdoing by its employees a serious matter,” she said.

Dan Gluck, executive director of the commission, said the fine is among the highest the commission has issued.

Regarding inspectors and those they oversee, Gluck said: “The ethics code is very clear that you can’t abuse that relationship.”

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