Former Honolulu Councilman Rod Tam pleaded no contest Tuesday to new misdemeanor charges of campaign spending violations, but he will have to wait until August to find out whether he will spend time in jail.
Part-time District Judge Randal Shintani scheduled a sentencing hearing for Aug. 16 on both the campaign spending case and Tam’s other case of stealing money by overcharging the city for meals at Honolulu restaurants.
Tam’s attorney and the state prosecutor wanted the judge to handle the sentencing, but Shintani said he wanted court officials to prepare a pre-sentence report on the new charges and research the issue of how much money Tam might have to repay the city.
CAMPAIGN SPENDING VIOLATIONS
Former City Councilman Rod Tam pleaded no contest Monday to misdemeanor charges of violating the state campaign spending law.
Tam pleaded no contest to the charges of using campaign funds for personal use, falsely reporting the use of campaign funds and failing to report campaign donations.
Tam’s lawyer Nelson Goo later called the campaign spending charges that were filed on Monday "very defensible."
But he said his client was not contesting them because any sentence in the case would probably run at the same time as a sentence in the city theft case.
"We pled no contest to avoid litigation, to avoid a felony charge and to avoid the prosecution of other members of the campaign," Goo said.
"Mr. Tam is taking the blame for this because he is head of the campaign," the lawyer said.
Tam now faces sentencing on the eight misdemeanor charges as well as 26 misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor charges in the city case. He pleaded guilty to those charges in November.
Misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in jail, petty misdemeanors by up to 30 days in jail.
A defendant who pleads no contest is usually found guilty by the judge.
But Goo will ask Shintani to defer accepting the no-contest and guilty pleas.
If granted, both cases will be dismissed if Tam abides by conditions similar to probation.
Deputy Attorney General Lori Wada said she will oppose the deferral request and ask for a jail sentence, though she declined to specify the length of the term.
"Not only is he violating the public’s trust as a City Council member, but now he’s violating the trust of his people supporting him and stealing from his own campaign fund," she said.
"We cannot accept or tolerate this kind of violation of the public trust for years," Wada said.
Tam’s no-contest pleas were not part of any plea agreement, the lawyers said, unlike the city theft case, which required Tam to plead guilty.
Wada said the evidence did not support the filing of any felony charges in the campaign spending case.
The deputy attorney general said she will ask that Tam pay back the city about $2,800 in restitution, the amount that the city Ethics Commission believes is still outstanding.
Tam agreed in March 2010 to pay the city $13,700 in fines and restitution to settle the city Ethics Commission allegations that he used his Council contingency fund for more than $22,000 worth of meals not related to his city work.
The commission’s case led to the 26 misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor charges of theft and falsifying claims for reimbursements of meals from 2007 to 2009.
Goo said he has to do more research but believes the former councilman’s $13,700 covers the city’s losses and that Tam shouldn’t have to pay more restitution.
About 30 of Tam’s relatives and supporters attending the proceedings, anticipating that Tam would have his sentencing hearing.
Goo spoke on Tam’s behalf after the hearing, saying he advised his client not to make any statements.
Tam spent 32 years in elective office as a member of a neighborhood board, the state Legislature and the Council. He unsuccessfully ran for Honolulu mayor last year. His second four-year term as a councilman ended Jan. 2, leaving him without a job.
Goo said he’ll address at the sentencing hearing whether Tam has a job, and would only say, "Times are hard."