HONOLULU (KHON2) — It’s a case nearly five years in the making. Today several former IBEW Local 1260 union officials had their first day in court and entered not-guilty pleas in a 70-count federal indictment for conspiracy, embezzlement, money laundering, wire fraud and allegations of member vote-rigging.
Brian Ahakuelo and his wife, Marilyn Ahakuelo, now live in Virginia but were back in Honolulu for their arraignment.
“He’s facing difficult times, but he’s returned back from the mainland to face these challenges here,” said Louis Michael Ching, attorney for Brian Ahakuelo.
Marilyn’s sister Jennifer Estencion — who now works at a local school — also was arraigned Wednesday.
“My client is going to fight all the way,” said Estencion’s attorney Megan Kau. “She’s innocent.”
All three remain free on $50,000 unsecured bonds but had to surrender their passports. The Ahakuelos will be permitted to travel to and from Virginia and Hawaii, and the judge made an exception to let them go see a grandchild’s soccer game in North Carolina in the coming days.
“He loves his family, but he also loves the union,” Ching said. “He was a very big advocate, a strong advocate for the Local 1260, and he really does care about the union.”
In addition to the indictment against these three individuals, four other former union employees were charged with misdemeanor conspiracy: Michael Brittain, Lee Ann Miyamura, Daniel Rose and Russell Yamanoha. Their charge is connected with a vote-rigging scheme that generated nearly $4 million in dues hikes that the union since refunded to members.
“Lee Ann Miyamura has cooperated fully in this investigation and will continue to do so,” her attorney Bill Harrison told Always Investigating. “She will take total responsibility for her individual actions and looks forward to resolving her case as quickly as possible and moving on with her life.”
Yamanoha declined comment through his attorney. Attorneys for Brittain and Rose did not yet respond to requests for comment.
Brittain, Miyamura, Rose and Yamanoha are expected to plead guilty in pre-arranged plea deals. All but Rose had left the union some time ago; Rose was on staff until recently. Yamanoha is still on staff as a city rail project’s spokesperson at HART as of Wednesday.
“The voter fraud, it’s going to involve the other individuals that are unindicted,” Ching said, “and that’s going to be interesting because we’re going to have to see whether or not they’re telling the truth or they’re self-serving and trying to protect their own self, because they could have easily been named in this indictment.”
“They admitted that they did it,” Kau said of the four charged with misdemeanor conspiracy, “and I’m going to look to them and say everything’s their fault. My client had no idea what they were doing. Obviously it would be very difficult for her to run the defense that her sister and her brother in law did it, but we have to explore that option.”
All of the three indicted and pleading not guilty Wednesday have court-appointed, taxpayer-funded lawyers who don’t yet have all the evidence from prosecutors — tens of thousands of pages, bank records at least 10 seized computers, and other evidence from several years of joint state-federal investigations which got started in part from after mainland parent-union auditors from IBEW raised the red flag.
“We can’t always take for granted what the indictment says,” Ching said. “That’s just one side of it, so we have to wait and see what the other side looks like, what the evidence, how strong it is, how credible it is, whether the individuals who are testifying are testifying truthfully and honestly or are the testifying to get a deal, a good deal so they don’t have to go to jail, so they won’t be punished as much.”
Prosecution and defense agreed to what’s called a “complex case” timeline, in which the trial could take more than a year to get underway.
Penalties in the Ahakuelo indictment carry a range of maximum terms of imprisonment of 20 years for each wire fraud charge, 10 years for each money laundering charge, 5 years for each embezzlement and conspiracy charge.
The four separately charged with misdemeanor conspiracy are on the court calendar to submit guilty pleas next week.