More charges detail IBEW union vote-rigging that raked in millions

Always Investigating

More charges were filed today against current and former electrical union staff, following the 70-count embezzlement and conspiracy indictment of Brian Ahakuelo and two family members yesterday.

The new misdemeanor conspiracy charges were filed by information — a form of criminal complaint that doesn’t involve a grand jury or indictment and can accompany plea deals. These separate charges are against cooperating witnesses who the feds say took part in a vote-rigging scheme that about doubled IBEW Local 1260 union member dues and raked in nearly $4 million, which has since been refunded.

Authorities today outlined details of yesterday’s conspiracy and embezzlement indictment, which Always Investigating was first to report Thursday, against former IBEW Local 1260 business manager Brian Ahakeulo, his wife, Marilyn, and his sister-in-law Jennifer Estencion, both of whom also worked at the union.

“In the conspiracy defendants syphoned thousands of dollars from IBEW Local 1260’s coffers and then tried to replenish the funds by raising union dues thru a rigged election,” said U.S. Attorney Kenji Price. “The defendants also conspired to embezzle union funds by spending union funds on personal expenses with no legitimate purpose.”

The indictment says that under Brian Ahakuelo, the union turned a $700,000 surplus into a $700,000 deficit. The indictment alleges Ahakuelo and his family spent tens of thousands on personal travel, meals, inflated wages and a vehicle, and falsified union members’ votes to rig a dues hike that raked in $3.7 million in just over a year.

“Four other individuals were charged today with conspiracy to make or cause to be made false entries in records required to be kept by a labor union,” Price said, referring to the information charge filed Friday. “Their names are Michael Brittain, Daniel Rose, Lee Ann Miyamura and Russell Yamanoha.”

The misdemeanor conspiracy charges outline those 4 individuals’ roles as alleged accomplices in the vote rigging. The feds say the scheme involved hiding in a car outside while members voted, swapping real ballots for fake ones and tossing the originals in the trash in a park in Guam.

Yamanoha now works at the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation as a spokesperson for the city’s rail project. HART said in a statement late Friday: “HART learned just today of the allegations, which are under review to determine whether any appropriate action needs to be taken or not.”

IBEW local 1260 declined to comment on the work status of Rose, Brittain and Miyamura.

The international union loaned the local division $3.7 million to pay members back in 2016 from the rigged-vote dues hike. The parent union told KHON2: “Immediately, the IBEW alerted authorities to what the international union believed to be potentially criminal behavior by the local’s leadership.”

The international had audited the local division and held it in trusteeship for about a year.

The federal charges stem from a 3-year investigation by federal and state authorities.

“What we found was an alleged network of corrupt power and greed,” said Justin Campbell, special agent in charge of the IRS-Criminal Division’s Seattle Field Office. “The charging document released yesterday detailed alleged acts that are deeply troubling because they directly impacted the paychecks of electrical workers in the Hawaiian Islands and Guam.”

The charges come on the heels of other unrelated cases of embezzlement at another local electrical union and at a longshore division union.

“As my office’s prosecutions has made clear, we will aggressively investigate and prosecute corrupt union officials who abuse the trust vested in them by the hard working folks in our communities,” Price said.

“The state is committed to investigating and to prosecuting persons who are in positions of trust and who engage in conduct that violates that trust,” said state of Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors. The case was jointly investigated by the AG’s office, IRS, and the Department of Labor Office of Labor Management. “We look forward to continuing to work w our partners in this case as the litigation proceeds to the next phase.”

Penalties in the Ahakuelo indictment carry a range of maximum terms of imprisonment: 20 years for each wire fraud charge, 10 years for each money laundering charge, 5 years for each embezzlement charge, and 5 years for the conspiracy charge.

“It’s important to note that these charges are merely accusations and each of the individuals are innocent until proven guilty in the court of law,” Price said.

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