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.