KHON2’s Always Investigating has uncovered another major case of taxpayer money misspent on government credit cards, this time on Maui.
We started digging into spending on government credit cards, called pCards, after the revelation that Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi had rung up excessive personal expenses on his county pCard. He’s now under criminal investigation.
But now, on Maui, a longtime government worker is suspected in connection with tens of thousands of dollars spent on a kitchen that wasn’t okayed by the county.
Most workplaces have a break room, usually nothing fancy. The one at the Maui mayor’s office is basic with a coffee pot and toaster oven.
So if that’s the kitchenette the mayor and his whole office use, why would the Wailuku Public Works Baseyard down the street need the strappings of a commercial kitchen that rivals a restaurant?
That’s what sources say is locked up inside one of the baseyard buildings, all paid for — tens of thousands of dollars — on the district supervisor’s county credit card or pCard.
“Even for us, right now it’s off-limits,” one Public Works staffer told Always Investigating when we visited the Maui site.
When we asked where it was located on the complex, the staffer explained it was near the conference room, which is in a building that looks like a large, blue two-story house.
Sources say it’s all pricey cooking appliances: a big freezer, a costly meat slicer and supplies like metal warming trays caterers use.
Always Investigating asked Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, “We would like to see the kitchen equipment at the Public Works department. We’re assuming it belongs to the taxpayers now. I want to make sure that people know they can’t cook and distribute food out of that kitchen at this time.”
“Personally, I wouldn’t mind having you go there, but I would not jeopardize our process in making sure that that evidence is at the level it should be to clear whatever standard we need to clear,” he replied. “It’s sealed. From my understanding, it’s locked and as long as the investigation is ongoing, it will stay locked.”
When Always Investigating got wind of what was happening at the Public Works department, we asked the county for the pCard records of Raynard Oshiro, a decades-long county worker who ran the Wailuku District.
Sources say last year another county worker blew the whistle on the kitchen-buying and that got Oshiro suspended with pay while the county investigated his and others’ spending patterns.
The county says it can’t give us his pCard statements because the investigation is still ongoing.
Sources say the baseyard charges were made here and there, and were explained on spending reports as being needed for the break room. The kitchen caper added up over time to tens of thousands of dollars, far more than would have been approved by the county for a break room kitchenette.
Strict controls are supposedly in place to check and double-check every swipe of the pCard, but it’s not bulletproof.
“If the way it was reported is falsified, it’s hidden,” Arakawa said, “so when the Finance Department looks at it, says okay this purchase was supposed to be for this, but it was actually used for something else, there’s a legitimate reason why a purchase would have been allowed. But then it was not done for the correct reason. No matter what system you have, you would not be able to catch those.”
Always Investigating asked, does anything need to change with pCards on Maui?
“As with any system, there is always a way to abuse the system because we’re dealing with people,” Arakawa said. “Anytime we have internal checks and the fact that we’ve been able to catch the abuse says that our system is working well.”
Oshiro has not yet responded to multiple requests to comment and explain why that place needed that kitchen. Sources say Oshiro is retiring but will make restitution to the county and pay them back toward the kitchen costs over time.
As for what the county can or cannot say on this case and its consequences, “unfortunately, I can’t go into details on an ongoing investigation,” Arakawa said.
When we asked if it would be handled in court or administratively, Arakawa said “a lot of it just depends on what the investigation involves.”
Always Investigating told Maui County Council member Mike Victorino, who represents Wailuku, what was going on at the baseyard and asked what could be done with the items themselves.
“Maybe eventually auctioning them off or having someone purchase them for the value they paid,” Victorino said. “I really don’t know how to answer that question until I see what’s there, what we can do with what’s there and be able to recoup whatever the county of Maui put out that shouldn’t have been paid for.”
On Wednesday, Always Investigating takes a look at other Maui County workers and departments being investigated in other cases of pCard abuse.