HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hundreds of thousands in legal campaign donations, millions in state and county contracts — all connected with a man the feds link to unreported bribes former lawmakers took.
“Person A” in the federal complaints against former state Sen. Kalani English and former Rep. Ty Cullen is not charged with a crime. But several lawmakers who received legal campaign money from him are giving it back.
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Criminal charges against English and Cullen, to which they plan to plead guilty next week according to their attorneys, describe how Person A showered them with travel, poker chips, meals, even envelopes of cash. All of it was undisclosed on their annual gift disclosures. The U.S. Attorney called the gifts bribes aimed at influencing cesspool-related legislation that Person A wanted introduced, then wanted killed.
Multiple sources identified Person A as Milton Choy. His attorney, Michael Green, tells KHON2: “I represent Milton Choy, and we’re dealing with the ongoing investigation. He has not been charged with any criminal offense, any violations of law, and we’re monitoring the investigation to see what the government believes occurred with Milton and others.”
Choy is a businessman affiliated with several companies, among them H20 Process Systems, Fluid Technologies Inc., Tyco Engineering Products and Central Pacific Controls. Campaign spending commission records show contributions from him, his family and his companies of more than $300,000 to dozens of state and federal candidates and committees since 2014.
English and Cullen are on the high list of lawmakers who received legally reported donations. But there are dozens of others, too.
Public procurement records also show his companies have been awarded major state and county contracts, worth more than $8.2 million.
There’s a $750,000 wastewater contract on Kauai. Mayor Derek Kawakami received $8,500 in legally reported donations from Choy and associates. Kawakami’s spokesperson told KHON2: “The County of Kauai diligently follows the statewide procurement code for awarding county contracts, and that process is not influenced by campaign contributions. Further, at no point in time did Mr. Choy ever ask Mayor Kawakami for preferential treatment.”
H2O Process Systems got nearly $3.7 million in wastewater contracts on Maui, plus nearly $300,000 for dozens of tiny shelters on the Valley Isle. A spokesperson for Mayor Michael Victorino, who received $6,000 in legally reported donations, said the mayor was traveling and unavailable for comment.
In Honolulu, H2O Systems was paid $3.5 million to disinfect Honolulu’s buses during the pandemic, another $37,000 for 2,200 16-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer, which pencils out to more than $17 a bottle.
Former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell received nearly $12,000 in legally reported donations. An attorney who has provided statements on Caldwell’s behalf since leaving office tells KHON2: “The former mayor’s approach has always been to appoint quality people and rely on them to do their jobs consistent with all applicable rules. He does not believe anything inappropriate occurred involving him or any of his appointees during his service as mayor. He did meet with Mr. Choy as well as thousands of other individuals during the time he was mayor. No inappropriate payment of any kind was ever offered or discussed.”
Current Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi received $7,500 in contributions. His spokesperson said in a statement that “his actions in his official capacity are independent of and unrelated to donations.”
Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee, got more than $19,000 in legally reported donations.
KHON2 asked Luke: Did Mr. Choy ever approach you directly for any meetings or favors after making any of those donations?
“No,” Luke said. “We learned through the media and through the complaint what some of his priorities were. We were very surprised that it was cesspool legislation and another legislation.”
She said she’s getting rid of it all.
“We have a responsibility to forfeit every single cent of what was contributed, because we have to do what is right to restore public trust,” Luke said.
Luke said she’ll be returning the funds to the state Campaign Spending Commission. Several other lawmakers who received legal donations have also vowed to do the same.
“All the donations were proper and legal,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Ways & Means Committee, who received $9,300 in legally reported contributions. “But to make a statement that we don’t condone this type of activity that we don’t approve of it, we’re going to be taking the donations that we received and redirecting them to Campaign Spending.”
Dela Cruz says that includes Senate President Ron Kouchi, who received $12,000 and told KHON2 the money never gained Choy special access or influence, adding: “My general policy has always been to scheduling meetings for any individual and/or group who asks to meet and/or discuss an issue or bill.”
Dela Cruz said other senators giving funds from Choy to the Campaign Spending Commission include Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, Sen. Clarence Nishihara, Sen. Michelle Kidani, Sen. Roz Baker, Sen. Stanley Chang, Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, Sen. Dru Kanuha, Sen. Lynn DeCoite, Sen. Glenn Wakai, Sen. Lorraine Inouye and Sen. Karl Rhoads. Donations to everyone on that list of senators, from Choy and associates, total a combined $41,500 in legally reported donations according to state records.
“’I could be proven wrong, but I don’t think I ever met him,” said Rhoads, who received $1,000 in legally reported funds. “I’m quite confident that he never asked me for anything ever,”
Gov. David Ige says he doesn’t intend to keep donations received from Choy and his affiliate. We counted $18,000 in donations to the governor from Choy and his associates. The governor’s spokesperson told us he “is exploring options for the funds.”
“What has happened is outrageous and a horrendous breach of public trust. It would never be tolerated in my administration,” Ige said in a statement. “We accept campaign contributions from a wide range of people as allowed by law. I don’t know Milton Choy. I believe in the procurement process, and I expect that all state departments are following that process to avoid any appearance of any impropriety.”
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The Campaign Spending Commission tells KHON2 any candidate can escheat funds to the commission, which apportions such money to the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund.