Mayor’s credit card misuse under investigation, payments included bars, HSBA dues

More troubles are emerging for Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi.

The Hawaii County prosecutor’s office has launched a criminal investigation into Kenoi’s misuse of a government-issued credit card.

Kenoi admitted he used his pCard for personal use, including nearly $900 at Club Evergreen, a hostess bar in Honolulu.

The mayor said he paid all the money back, but the prosecutor is looking into whether any laws were broken.

State attorney general Doug Chin told KHON2 his office has offered to help with the investigation.

“I have been in talks with the prosecutor for the Big Island, Mitch Roth, and they are looking at these facts very seriously,” he said.

Chin said it’s too early to tell whether Kenoi broke any laws, but “in this case, it seems like there’s enough facts out there that, at least from a criminal standpoint, that people are wanting to discuss if there is anything that should be done about it.”

And it’s not just Kenoi who could get in trouble for this. Chin says they’re looking at others who work for the county who might have known that this was going on and didn’t report it.

“Was there somebody who was processing this that allowed this to happen that might have given the mayor the impression that it was okay?” Chin said.

Kenoi has since apologized and is no longer allowed to use the pCard for the remainder of his term.

He said he didn’t realize he was doing anything wrong, and even checked with the office that coordinates the pCards.

“We did have reviews,” Kenoi said. “We did make sure that any purchases that were on were official business and any personal ones that I made, I just paid it back.”

The county’s auditor has been reviewing countywide pCard spending for months.

Always Investigating asked for the records and got more than five years of Kenoi’s county purchasing card statements Thursday afternoon, as well as copies of reimbursement he has made or others made on his behalf.

View the full statements below:

2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | Reimbursements

We reviewed more than 150 pages of the mayor’s spending line by line. Looking through the statements, there are a lot of charges for drinks, food, hotels, rental cars and more.

But what’s business and what’s not is still far from clear.

The statements say he has a credit limit of $10,000.

From January 2009 to the pCard statement running through the end of this February, Kenoi charged more than $122,805 to the taxpayer-backed card.

Of that, the mayor paid back about $29,571, and others like trade organizations paid back about $6,013 for him.

We found tens of thousands in travel expenses within the islands, to the mainland, even international.

There are charges for rooms or meals and drinks at hotels like the Four Seasons in San Francisco, the Mandarin Oriental in D.C. and JW Marriott in Los Angeles.

Locally Kenoi has spent money at the Sheraton Waikiki, Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Moana Surfrider, Executive Center and others.

Retailers like Quiksilver, a surf shop, bike shop, even hundreds of purchases at a time at online and Oahu-based flag-and-banner stores.

KHON2 had asked Kenoi if there were any other bars like Club Evergreen where he spent more than $500.

Kenoi told us no, but according to the statements, there were: $620 at Honolulu’s Aloha Lounge, $753 at Shokudo, $422 at Camelot, $479 at the Hilton Lobby Bar in Baltimore, hundreds at a time at Sansei, an $800 tab at Kenichi in Kailua-Kona, another there for $900, $700 at Palms by the Bay in Hilo.

One of the smallest was $6 at McDonald’s.

In addition to the bar spending, Kenoi, who is also an attorney, rang up his nearly $600 Hawaii State Bar Association dues on his pCard.

As for the alcohol, the mayor’s spokesperson gave us a 1999 memo that states there’s an exception allowing alcohol purchases if “necessary for the entertainment of dignitaries by the Mayor” or others.

Exceptions are supposed to have the written approval of the Mayor or council chair.

Questions are now being raised about Kenoi’s political career.

Hawaii Pacific University professor John Hart told KHON2 any criminal charges would be devastating. But if Big Island voters still support him, Kenoi, who still has two years in office, still has the possibility of getting elected into a higher office.

“If they support him, will he still be able to run for governor? Definitely. Will this event creep back up if he runs for governor? Definitely. Is it gonna be fatal two years from now? Probably not, not if the Big Island accepts his apologies,” Hart said.

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