Indictments are imminent in a years-long federal investigation of a former Hawaii union boss and several family members. It’s a story KHON2 has been following for about three years, when allegations relating to expenses at IBEW Local 1260 led to a union management overhaul and a multiagency investigation that is nearing a conclusion.
Always Investigating has learned indictments are near three years after several federal agencies, with help of joint state investigators, began digging into what happened at IBEW Local 1260, the area division of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Multiple sources confirmed to KHON that target letters were issued, charges are teed up, and plea deals are being discussed. An attorney for former business manager Brian Ahakuelo acknowledged the government wanted to talk to his client. Federal and state investigative divisions declined to comment on the case that centers around how money was allegedly misspent for years under Ahakuelo, who was pulling in a salary of more than $200,000 a year, while his son and wife got six figures each, too.
It was May of 2016 when the union was placed under IBEW trusteeship over what the union called “financial misconduct” by Brian Ahakuelo.
IBEW auditors came in and put Ahakuelo on leave. Ahakuelo told KHON2 this at the time: “I need to make sure that I am not painted out to be a demon, because I have not done anything wrong. Anything. Everything I’ve done was for the members. Always for the members.”
IBEW auditors flagged things such as personal expenses connected to no legitimate union business, unauthorized paid leave, and trips to Las Vegas, Miami and the East Coast among other allegations.
What they found led to several federal agencies launching their own investigations and seizing financial records.
By the next spring, in 2017, Local 1260 was back under new local management with the trusteeship lifted, but the law enforcement investigations continued. But why three years? Because federal financial criminal investigations are complicated.
From the time cases are initiated, whether by findings passed on to authorities or by agents themselves initiating a look, the circumstances first go through a preliminary analysis where special agents analyze if a crime might have occurred, according to the IRS Criminal Investigation division. A supervisor above them decides whether to approve a criminal investigation, and if green-lighted, then facts and evidence are collected, witnesses interviewed, surveillance and search warrants are conducted, and financial records are subpoenaed. If all of that substantiates criminal activity, a special agent report goes to case review before going on to prosecution by a U.S. Attorney or Department of Justice Tax Division.
The IRS criminal unit alone takes on 3,000 prosecutions a year. The agency states: “The ultimate goal of an IRS criminal investigation prosecution recommendation is to obtain a conviction – either by a guilty verdict or plea. Approximately 3,000 criminal prosecutions per year provide a deterrent effect and signals to our compliant taxpayers that fraud will not be tolerated.”
A spokesperson for IBEW Local 1260 told Always Investigating in a statement: “We have no comment regarding the federal investigation of Brian Ahakuelo. Under the strong leadership of Business Manager/Financial Secretary Russell Takemoto, we have moved Local 1260 forward with our commitment to ‘member-first’ representation to improve the quality of life for our members and their families while conducting ourselves with integrity, accountability and transparency every single day.”
Brian Ahakuelo and relatives have not yet responded to requests for comment.
Besides the financial allegations, investigators are weighing whether there are any chargeable offenses connected to irregularities in tallies of a member vote that caused Hawaii union dues to double. Local 1260 represents more than 3,200 utility, broadcast, maintenance and contract workers in Hawaii, Guam and Wake Island.
We’ll follow up as these long-running investigations reach conclusions.
In 2015, more than a year before Ahakuelo left the union, a lawsuit was settled that had been filed in 2012 by a fired union employee, Thomas Decano, who claimed he was let go because he wouldn’t carry out a murder-for-hire scheme Ahakuelo ordered against 6 union members. Ahakuelo told KHON2 at the time that it was an outlandish, false claim by a disgruntled ex-staffer with ties to those who wanted to take over the union.