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Chef Sam Choy serves up some laughs in Kenoi trial testimony

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON / POOL

    Sam Choy testifies during Mayor Billy Kenoi’s trial today in Hilo Circuit Court.

Testimony from celebrity chef Sam Choy added an air of levity this morning to the corruption trial of Hawaii island Mayor Billy Kenoi that even had Judge Dexter Del Rosario smiling at times.

Kenoi’s 2013 purchase of liquor for volunteers for Choy’s annual poke fest is at the center of one of the five remaining criminal charges against the mayor.

Choy entered Del Rosario’s Third Circuit Court room and immediately mugged for the television pool camera, then grinned at jurors, who smiled back. Asked about his education, Choy said he attended “Last Chance College” on Oahu, “or LCC”— Leeward Community College.

At one point, as jurors and court watchers laughed, Choy apologized to the court. “Sorry to be funny,” Choy said. “I know this is serious stuff.”

Choy said he met Kenoi the first time at a McDonald’s followed by a trip to Costco because — Choy said to laughter — he likes the deal on Costco’s hot dogs and soda.

Choy talked about how Kenoi supported his poke contest and even entered as a celebrity chef before Choy dead-panned to laughter, “he didn’t win.”

Several times during his testimony, Choy bolstered the defense’s position that Kenoi had the discretion to buy meals and liquor to help build relationships that would benefit the Big Island, especially economically.

“When I saw Mayor Kenoi there I knew the volunteers would be taken care of because that’s his DNA,” Choy said.

At the annual Merrie Monarch hula festival, Choy said, “Billy went and got food and asked people to come and help. That’s the hottest ticket, to go to — the after-party. That’s the thing that makes him a champion. Nobody every looks at that, nobody ever sees that.”

“We’re not the sharpest knives in the drawer,” Choy said. “But without volunteers at any kind of event it never happens.”

Following Choy’s testimony, the courtroom took a much more subdued tone when former managing director William Takaba testified for the defense.

Takaba served under 11 Hawaii island mayors, including Kenoi, and created the pCard system that’s at the heart of the state Attorney General’s criminal case.

Takaba said the mayor, as the chief executive officer for the county, had wide discretion to use his pCard, including buying liquor.

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    • I suspect you might be right. One thing to remember, the Big Island is not Oahu. Stuff we think is not OK here is OK there. Buying booze on a county credit card would be a no-no here, but on the Big Island, it might not be. Using a C%C of Honolulu credit card to pay a bill at a hostess bar, or to buy a surfboard would get you fired here, but on the big island it could be just a matter of pay the county back and its OK. My frients on the big island chafe at “Honolulu guys” tell them to do. If that;s the case here, Kenoi will walk

    • agree..The monopoly party will not dare let their boy sink. Kenoi knows a lot about what goes on behind closed doors out here. If he goes to prison as a felon, he may squeal.

    • Clever ploy on the defense’s part. But really disrespecting the legal system. Well, if clowning it up works to get Kenoi off, they did their job. But I have no respect for good ol’ boy Sam Choy.

  • Do you seriously think that you can just give the people behind the rail construction a few beers and poke to grease their wheels? Please. The cost of the attorneys (even on city and state time) will grossly overrun anything Kenoi spent.

  • Kenoi has done nothing more egregious than many other state employees with P cards. I have said all along, if you want corruption, start by investigating the P cards of UH Manoa administrators (especially those who go on personal international trips citing fake conferences as the reason). Why is the AG not investigating this?

  • I have a feeling that the jury won’t convict Kenoi on the theft charges, but I still think his use of a county P-card to make those purchases was inappropriate. I work for a government agency and that kind of behavior, no matter what the position, will lose you your job or be criminally prosecuted. As a taxpayer, it also bothers me that this was condoned by county officials. The county needs to tighten up their regulations and policies regarding P-card use and make sure they’re adhered to. Too much sloppiness and opportunity for abuse and corruption.

    • Inappropriate? Yes. Unethical? Yes. Get you fired or removed from office? Yes. Criminal? Nope. Not if he paid everything back, even in an untimely manner. The point the prosecution needs to prove is if he knowingly and intently was trying to pay for these things and get away with not reimbursing the C&C, which constitutes stealing or theft. I don’t think he was/is that pilau. Is he Lolo… thinking he can act like da man at a time of drunkeness and repay the charges later because he doesn’t own a personal credit card? Yup. Guilty of being dumb. Nothing more nothing less.

  • So because buying alcohol to entertain his guests have been going on for so long, it has become the norm and therefore acceptable? No! Too bad the skinny chef has lost his credibility by his testimony. Will not view his shows nor use any of his establishments.

  • Funny, after a celebrity testimony. some people believe he should get off! Kenoi was generous and a good organizer but he didn’t pay for this, the taxpayers did!

    • He paid everything back. Taxpayers didn’t pay for anything. Not defending his lack of intelligence nor morality. But what he did was not criminal. Remove him from office if need be. Throwing him in jail will really then be on the taxpayers.

  • C’mon Man !! Cut da Bull ! Focus on the darn Rail and the corrupt people who’re in charge. Save more money if the powers-to-be use their “ata’ma” in the right areas of concern. What a joke this state is.

  • I would think all politicians would like to buy food and drinks for volunteers for helping out using taxpayers’ money. The volunteers will feel good and the politician will also look good and win over some voters. But no one individual should have full control over how taxpayers’ money is spent.

  • Buying food for volunteers to promote Hawaii Island is not a crime and within the Mayor’s job description. Buying alcohol with county funds is a liability. Sounds like he exercised poor judgement, but didn’t violate the rules, therefore innocent of the charges.

    Shouldn’t have used county funds for hostess bar entertainment. Would have been nice had he used those funds to promote local businesses on Hawaii Island.

  • No matter what happens every one knows that he made some bad choices. Choices he should be ashamed of, but he will probably laugh about it when all is done.

  • “Nobody every looks at that, nobody ever sees that.” I guess no one “every” proofreads for the SA!

    Re: Kenoi, he will be found guilty and given community service.

    • Guilty of what? The prosecution needs to prove theft and intent. This is a waste of taxpayer’s money. What he did was unethical, not illegal. He didn’t just pay thing back because he was caught. He was doing it for years as the former director testified. No matter how long he took to pay it back, he noted it as personal use and paid it back. That’s not theft from a judicial standpoint in the least.

  • A farce literally, witty chef, participants at get together imbibing sake and other liquor, and goes on and on. The demeanor of the court trial is lost in the horse opera being offered. A playwright could not have done better. The defense team is making a mockery of the trial?

  • Kenoi may have skirted “House rules” but this is a criminal trial. Impossible to prove intent of theft especially if he repaid the credit charges. This “Scapegoat” trial is a warning to others and for the County to save face. They need to create and enforce improved rules for the p-card going forward. There are no terms for punishment in the current system. Everyone please understand that this trial and waste of time to tarnish Kenoi is in actuality Kenoi’s punishment.

    • Yeah, Kenoi’s legal team sees they don’t have a real defense. So they’re going for the emotional appeal. Have clown Sam soften up the court, then Kenoi comes in and cries talking about his poor childhood.

      How dumb are our judges??? We’ll see…

  • I feel sorry for Kenoi. I think he did something thoughtless and stupid and irresponsible and careless, but I don’t think he did it with bad intent. But that is all beside the point, which is that he committed a crime. He stole money from taxpayers, used it to party and buy himself personal items, and–worst of all–gave taxpayer money to an establishment involved in sex trafficking. No matter how good a mayor he was, his crime had victims and those victims deserve justice. Letting him off the hook sends the message that people in power are above the law and that using tax dollars to perpetuate old boy, braddah braddah, back room, misogynistic politics is a-ok.

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