HILO >> Current and former aides to Mayor Billy Kenoi testified at his criminal trial Wednesday as the state sought to build a theft case against the mayor.
Kenoi is accused of making improper purchases on his county purchasing card, or pCard, and then tampering with the records.
His executive secretary, the current and former Hawaii County finance directors, his former executive assistant and a bank executive all testified on behalf of the prosecution. Five of the employees were granted immunity for testifying about their boss, who appointed them to their positions.
The jury heard County Finance Director Deanna Sako testify that, as the pCard administrator, she would let the mayor know when a request from the media came in for records when it pertained to him.
Deputy Attorney General Michelle Puu asked her why she had to inform the mayor.
“We always clear things with the mayor,” Sako said.
Kenoi has acknowledged paying the county back $31,000 in unauthorized personal expenses charged on the pCard. He charged a total of about $129,000 on his pCard, including alcohol purchases, which are now blocked.
“We have asked the bank to block alcohol,” when it comes to pCard use, Sako said. “In general, it is not allowed.”
She said she did not recall when it was blocked.
The state alleges that some reimbursements did not occur until two years later, often only after media requests.
Kenoi was indicted in March on charges of theft, tampering with government records and false swearing relating to his alleged abuse of his county purchasing card.
The charges focus on 15 transactions from 2011 to 2014. The prosecution said that the receipts were found through the state’s own investigation, and that the mayor failed to provide the receipts to the county Finance Department.
The transactions total $4,129.31, which the state alleges were for personal use, and should not have been charged on the pCard.
The defense claims the charges were for both county purposes and personal, and that Kenoi reimbursed the county $3,929.31 for 14 of the 15.
Kevin Dayton, a former executive assistant and executive director for the mayor between 2008-2011 and 2012-2015, returned to the witness stand Wednesday after beginning his testimony Tuesday.
Dayton, who is now the Capitol bureau chief for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, was offered but declined immunity. His attorney, Ted Hong, said Dayton has nothing to hide.
The prosecution alleges that the mayor charged $320 on his pCard for a farewell party for Dayton at the Hilo Yacht Club, but labeled the event as an “office strategic planning luncheon” on his pCard summary.
Dayton testified that at the luncheon, he spoke with other Kenoi Cabinet members about the transition after he left and exchanged information with them.
The receipt contained glasses of wine and other alcoholic beverages.
Dayton told Kenoi’s attorney Todd Eddins during cross-examination that the mayor was authorized to purchase alcohol, but said he was not aware of what the County Code said.
Eddins asked him whether it was common to discuss things over alcohol.
“It’s not uncommon for discussions to buy a beer or to have a drink, at least in my experience,” Dayton said.
The mayor’s secretary, Paulette Wilson, testified she had to sometimes wait for receipts from the mayor.
After seeing the pCard summaries, she testified it was the mayor who probably provided the purpose for most of the 15 transactions in question.
Puu questioned why there was a blank for the purpose of a charge from Huggo’s, a Big Island restaurant.
Wilson explained she would ask the mayor for explanations for charges, but said “very few” were submitted to the Finance Department with blanks in the purpose category. She said the deadline to submit the bank statements, pCard summaries and receipts or affidavits to the Finance Department was not more than a month.
ABOUT Dayton’s farewell luncheon, she said: “It kind of turned into a strategic planning luncheon.”
She shook her head when asked whether wine was consumed at the lunch, saying that was not done during the workday.
She failed to recall 14 of the 15 receipts shown to her by the state, including a $600 receipt for Bacardi, Grey Goose, Fireball, Crown Royal and Absolut from Clyde’s Gallery in Washington, D.C., saying it was a long time ago.
She did recall one receipt for Volcano House, saying it was for U.S. Conference of Mayors visitors.
The prosecution also called a First Hawaiian Bank executive to explain what a “consumer purpose line of credit” is. He said it is an unsecured revolving loan up to $25,000, similar to a credit card.
He confirmed a “Personal First Line” check written by Kenoi to the Finance Department was such a loan — that is, a loan to Kenoi from the bank.
Kenoi supporters at the trial included the mayor’s wife, relatives and friends.
The jury trial continues Monday before Judge Dexter Del Rosario.