HONOLULU (KHON2) — The damage of trust by the bribery allegations against former Senate Majority Leader Kalani English and now former Representative Ty Cullen could be far worse than the actual fraud charges both face according to a legal expert.
United States Attorney Clare Connors announced English and Cullen were charged with one count of honest services wire fraud. Federal prosecutors alleged English and Cullen accepted thousands of dollars in bribes to influence their votes in the legislature.
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“It’s the last thing that the public wants to hear, which is that money influences votes,” former Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin said. “You got this charge of wire fraud but behind all of this is some very serious and significant allegations that are a serious breach of trust.”
Lobbying is legal in Hawaii but legal analyst Dr. John Hart said the alleged acceptance of thousands of dollars crossed ethical and legal lines.
Hart said, “This has gone beyond that this is ‘quid pro quo’ to be lawyerly. What that simply means is that there was an explicit agreement of exchange of goods for services, in this case, money for political actions.”
The Hawaii Senate’s Public Information Officer Jacob Aki, in a statement, said, “We were unaware until the news broke earlier today, and we do not have a comment at this time.”
Meanwhile, House Speaker Scott Saiki confirmed Representative Ty Cullen resigned from office.
“The allegations against former Senator Kalani English and Representative Ty Cullen are very serious and these actions violate the public trust,” Saiki said. “The Hawaii Democratic Party will now need to begin the process of nominating a replacement for Representative Cullen.”
Hawaii Kai Representative Gene Ward called for the state auditor’s involvement if questions about campaign finances arise.
Ward said, “This is the biggest bombshell to hit the State Legislature in decades. I commend the US Attorney’s office for what appears as a very open and closed case.”
Chin said the allegations are more the reason to be engaged in the political process and keep elected officials accountable.
“I think it is important to shine a light on cases like these, really as a wake-up call to know that law enforcement is going to hold everybody accountable according to the law,” Chin said. “And it’s important to be able to enforce these laws to be able to build public trust.”
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Neither English nor Cullen are in police custody, their initial court appearance will be scheduled in the coming days.