Local businessman admits he bribed state officials as part of a plea deal

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A Honolulu businessman accused of bribing state officials to get multi-million dollar contracts plead guilty in federal court Tuesday.

Frank James Lyon agreed to cooperate with federal investigators as part of a plea deal.

In addition to giving cash, Lyon also admitted to buying cars, paying for a trip to Vegas. Even paying for tuition at UH for a relative of someone he wanted to bribe.

The 53-year-old president of a civil engineering firm called Lyon Associates, plead guilty to conspiracy in federal court as part of a plea deal with federal investigators.

He told a federal judge that he paid Hawaii state officials about $240,000 and received $2.5 million in contract payments. 

Lyon also admitted paying officials in Micronesia about $200,000 and got nearly $8 million in contract payments. It all happened between 2006 and 2016. And legal experts say this could just be the tip of the iceberg if Lyon has agreed to cooperate with investigators.

“There’s a ton of stuff he could have been indicted on which means he’s getting a deal to cooperate,” said Ken Lawson, UH Law School Faculty Specialist.

The company has an office inside a low rise building on North King Street. Online, the company states that it has been around for decades and does business all over the world. 

Lawson says federal officials will likely want to know more from Lyon on the severity of the bribery scheme.

“How do you know which state officials to approach? Is this the only contract you’ve been involved in with respect to bribery?  Are there others?” said Lawson.

Court documents show that Lyon was brazen enough to admit what he was doing was wrong in his emails. In one of them he wrote, “This is illegal. I can only do these things when people don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Which is dumb. But the arrogance says that we’re not gonna get caught. I don’t have to be that careful in my emails to you telling you that what we’re doing is illegal,” said Lawson.

Lyon faces up to five years in prison. He’s scheduled for sentencing on May 13.

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