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Tam pleads guilty to falsifying meal reimbursements

  • STAR-ADVERTISER PHOTO BY GEORGE F. LEE/GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM
    FILE PHOTO - Honolulu CIty Councilman Rod Tam held a brief press conference on March 5, 2010 outside of Honolulu Hale to answers questions about misuse of council contingency funds.
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City Councilman Rod Tam today pleaded guilty to 13 counts of theft and 13 counts of falsifying documents in connection with an investigation that he falsified claims for reimbursement of meals from 2007 to 2009.

The state Attorney General’s Office said Tam knowingly charged the city higher amounts that the actual receipts paid for meals.

Tam pleaded guilty to all 26 counts. All are misdemeanors. Attorney General Mark Bennett said there is no plea agreement, and that a decision on what sentence prosecutors will seek will be left to the next attorney general.

Overcharges ranged from $8 to $267 for meals at various Honolulu restaurants, the complaint said.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 27 before part-time state District Judge Randal Shintani.

“Mr. Tam violated a public trust, and has now pled guilty to 26 separate crimes,” Bennett said. “We believe this is an appropriate resolution to this case.”

Tam pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree theft, 11 counts of fourth-degree theft and 13 counts of unsworn falsification to authorities.

Third-degree theft and unsworn falsification to authorities are misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $2,000 or both.

Fourth-degree theft is a petty misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000 or both.

Tam is completing his second four-year term on the Council, after serving nearly two decades in the state Legislature. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor this fall.

Last March, Tam agreed to pay the city $13,700 in exchange for the dismissal of claims brought against him by the city Ethics Commission. Under that agreement, Tam admitted no wrongdoing.

Council members are given $16,000 annually for “contingency expenses” that can range from cell phone bills to trips out of state.

While some of Tam’s colleagues used their contingency accounts to pay for an occasional meal with staff members, or for per diem meals they ate while on trips, “none of the (other) councilmembers submitted meal reimbursement requests for the number, total cost or reasons submitted by Councilmember Tam,” said a city Ethics Commission report.

Even after Tam was interviewed by the Ethics Commission, he continued to use his city allowance to pay for meals with constituents and retirement party gifts, city records show.

The Council voted 9-0 in March to censure Tam. Tam voted with his colleagues.

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