HONOLULU (KHON2)– Hawaii’s top federal law enforcement official, U.S. Attorney Clare Connors, joined KHON2 in studio, covering the scope of investigations into the Lahaina fires, issuing warnings about recovery scams, and reminding the public of the dangers of fentanyl.

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KHON: So many federal resources are assisting on Maui, and a lot of people want to know how can those resources help identify loved ones, find and identify remains?

CONNORS: The Federal Bureau of Investigations has deployed resources to collect DNA information to utilize its resources to help identify people. They have put quite a presence on Maui right now, and they are actively supporting local and state officials as they try to identify victims and bring families together.

KHON: Among one of the most important roles for our federal officials there are those who are looking into what happened. How did the fires start? Was it an accident? Could it have been any kind of wrongdoing? What kind of agencies are looking there?

CONNORS: Our Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms bureau is now deployed to look at the origin and cause of the fires. We have some of our assets here in Honolulu that are part of that process. That’s the mandate of the ATF in situations like this to put their specialists on site and to help us all come up with answers as to what happened and how.

KHON: After our state attorney general announced that she would be doing a review, I checked with former state AGs who affirmed to me that state agencies have a mandate to look at any civil or criminal liabilities that might arise. Ka Loko dam was brought up as a past incident that a state AG investigated. Is it correct to say that as an AG, if you see something that carries a civil liability or a criminally negligent liability, is the mandate there that they must take action on it?

CONNORS: As chief law enforcement officers, whether at the state side or on the federal side as I am now, or the local side, we have specific areas, statutes, and otherwise that mandate us to take action. And we will work, and I have every confidence that my colleagues as the chief law enforcement officers at every level will work, within those mandates and within that authorization to do what we can to investigate and to take action as necessary, depending on what we find.

KHON: Of course, everybody wants to know how things can be made best practice going forward so something like this never happens again. A lot of people want to help, and a lot of that is with money. Scammers know that.

CONNORS: Right, we know time and time again, that when we have disasters like this, when we have people who are put into vulnerable situations, which we certainly have right now on Maui, that we have bad actors who know how to take advantage of people in those situations. What we’ve seen is you might be looking on the internet, minding your own business, and something might pop up saying of critical, urgent need related to something that you’ve been looking at to try to find a way to help. And the goal of these bad actors is to get you to think that you have to act now, is to get you to turn over money, is to get you to turn over your personal information, to create a situation where you feel compelled in that moment to take action. Our advice right now is to take a breath to step back. And the moment that they start asking for money, or they start asking for personal information, there should be something going on right now in your gut that tells you to hang up. And the thing I do want to say to people is help those around you, make sure that you are spreading information that makes people aware of what’s out there and the types of things that might be targeted, and we all have a role to play and willing to help each other right now.

KHON: Many billions of dollars in federal relief money will be pouring in fast. Deja vu to covid, in which your office prosecuted bad actors, whether businesses, or people from who knows where impersonating people on unemployment. Do you think that is bound to happen again? And will you be on the lookout for that?

CONNORS: Yes, we know it’s happening right now. We know fake charities, we know impersonator imposter scams. “I’m a FEMA representative here to help you give me your information. I’m an insurance adjuster here to help you give me your information.” We 100% know that’s happening. Right now, we are still very actively prosecuting investigating matters that unfolded during the covid relief money distributions. We’re still very busy with that. And yes, unfortunately, we do know that we will be doing the same here. That’s why we’re trying to get ahead of it, trying to tell people what they can do to prevent becoming a victim in these circumstances.

KHON: Lahaina deserves all of our attention, and upcountry as well with the suffering there. But not to take our eyes off the scourge of fentanyl, which has been a huge focus for you. What do want people to know about that continuing danger?

CONNORS: Today is National Fentanyl Awareness and Prevention Day. It’s a Drug Enforcement Administration initiative that we’re all participating in ensuring people understand what it means. Fentanyl is by far the worst threat we face right now when it comes to illicit narcotics. It’s 100 times more lethal than morphine. It’s 50 times more lethal than heroin. We find it marketed in products that people might use like a Percocet. We also find it marketed in illicit drugs laced in things that individuals might come upon or use. And we are going to see the fatalities from these fentanyl poisonings continue to increase. They carry very significant penalties if you are found connected to have been distributing something with fentanyl that caused somebody to overdose and die. You could be facing 10 years minimum, possibly 20 years minimum on a sentence after we investigate and prosecute.

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KHON: And we only have to look to the court records to see your office already doing that. Thank you for the work you’re doing on behalf of the community.