HILO >> A Hawaii island jury today found Mayor Billy Kenoi not guilty on all charges related to his alleged misuse of a county-issued purchasing card.
Kenoi hugged family members, friends and supporters as he was hustled out of the courtroom after the verdict was read. He did not speak with reporters.
Deputy state Attorney General Kevin Takata also left the courtroom without addressing reporters. But Attorney General Doug Chin later issued a news release saying, “We respect the verdict and thank the jurors for their service.”
After a two-week trial, the jury began their deliberations Monday.
Kenoi faced four counts of theft — two of them Class C felonies and two of them misdemeanors. The charges also included one count of making a false statement under oath for billing the county $200 under for what he described as “Luncheon with U.S. Conference of Mayors Visitors.” Kenoi testified that he entertained the son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren of the head of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Conference of Mayors at Volcano House.
Kenoi originally faced eight counts related to 15 transactions that he billed to his pCard from 2011 to 2014.
He was never charged with the more eye-catching expenses that he billed to the county for a $1,200 surfboard; $400 that he spent at the Camelot Restaurant and Lounge hostess bar and a $892 tab at the Club Evergreen hostess bar, which are both located in Honolulu.
After Kenoi’s so-called pCard spending was reported by Hawaii island newspaper reporter Nancy Cook Lauer, Kenoi apologized publicly and reimbursed the county $31,112.59.
Judge Dexter Del Rosario last week dismissed three counts related to tampering with government documents after the state Attorney General’s office presented its case in Third Circuit Court.
Kenoi’s attorneys maintained throughout the trial that Kenoi reimbursed the county for personal expenses he billed to his pCard — and that there was no prohibition against purchasing alcohol on his pCard. Any liquor expenses, they said, were made while Kenoi was trying to use his connections to keep the Big Island running during the Great Recession or to thank volunteers at events that benefited the island’s economy.
The first count of second-degree theft involved nine pCard purchases that Kenoi billed to the county in 2011 for: hosting people associated with the Big Island Film Festival at Sansei Restaurant ($422.69); $140 spent at the Chart House restaurant; a $479.88 bill for the Hilton lobby bar in Baltimore for an after-hours gathering of people attending a U.S. Conference of Mayors event, followed the next night by a Washington, D.C. outing for staff of Hawaii’s Congressional delegation that Kenoi lumped in with the U.S. Conference of Mayors event; a personal charge of $292.60 for a wedding present for his nephew that involved a two-night stay at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel; $81.24 that Kenoi billed to his pCard for a garment bag at Target en route to a flight to Honolulu; $130 spent on mostly alcohol at Macaroni Grill in Kona where the mayor and his guest testified they discussed county issues; $181.16 at Huggos; and $320 for a luncheon in honor of outgoing Kenoi aide Kevin Dayton, who is now the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s capitol bureau chief. Kenoi and others in his administration testified that discussions at the luncheon, where wine was served, included who would take over projects that Dayton had shepherded for Hawaii County.
The second count of second-degree theft involved purchases Kenoi made in 2013 for: an outing to Clyde’s Gallery ($600) that Kenoi said involved networking with Congressional staff members; a $125.95 purchase of beer and hard liquor at a Kona Long’s that Kenoi testified was intended to thank volunteers at Sam Choy’s annual poke contest; a $201.68 purchase at a Kona Long’s for hard liquor that Kenoi said he gave to island dignitaries attending the Tahiti Fete after they presented Kenoi with gifts of paddles and he wanted to reciprocate; $300 spent at a Manoa restaurant in which Kenoi testified he tried to recruit former state Rep. Tommy Waters as corporation counsel while simultaneously trying to network with an Oceanic Time Warner cable representative to figure out who to contact to improve broadband service on Hawaii island.
A third count — of third-degree theft — involved a $200 lunch at Volcano House in 2014 that Kenoi described as “Luncheon with U.S. Conference of Mayors Visitors” to host the son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren of the head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The Volcano House luncheon also was at the center of the remaining accusation that Kenoi made a false statement under oath.
A separate count of third-degree theft involved a $170 purchase of alcohol at Tommy Bahamas in 2014 that Kenoi testified was related to hosting representatives from a lucrative meeting planners conference of financial planners.
In his statement after the verdict, Attorney General Chin said, “The crime of theft requires proof a person intended to permanently deprive his victim of what he stole. The prosecution argued that not paying back funds to the county of Hawaii until after the press caught him was proof of Mayor Kenoi’s intent. We respect the verdict and thank the jurors for their service.”
Following six days of testimony that spanned two weeks, Takata told jurors in his closing arguments Monday morning that “rules apply to everyone except the mayor. Apathy is the accomplice to political corruption. The verdict is yours. Do justice. Do equal justice.”
After Takata’s initial closing argument, Kenoi defense attorney Todd Eddins displayed the words “NOT GUILTY” on a courtroom screen throughout his own closing argument.
Eddins ended by telling jurors that “Mayor Kenoi’s an honorable, decent family man who worked tirelessly for this county… and you’re lucky to have him. And he’s been wrongfully accused by the state government. … It’s an opportunity and privilege for you to right a wrong. It’s an opportunity and privilege for you to tell the state government it’s wrong.”
Eddins then touched his heart and said, “Restore a good man. I hand William P. Kenoi over to you.”