A former union boss and his family members have been charged with criminal conspiracy and wire fraud for allegedly using union dues for personal expenses and rigging elections in order to more than double union dues. Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260 paid an extra $3.7 million more in increased dues as a result.
The 70-count indictment against Brian Ahakuelo, 58, his wife Marilyn, 55, and her sister Jennifer Estencion, 52, was filed Thursday and includes additional charges of money laundering and embezzlement.
“Our office will aggressively investigate and prosecute corruption in unions – and any other governmental or non-governmental entities — that abuse the trust vested in them by the hard working men and women in our communities,” said U.S. Attorney Kenji Price during a press conference in downtown Honolulu today. “If your job is to protect the hard-working men and women in our communities, then do that. If you use your position to corruptly line your own pockets or serve other corrupt interests, we will use all of our resources to hold you accountable.”
IBEW 1260 represents about 3,000 electrical workers in Hawaii and Guam.
Brian Ahakuelo during his time as business manager and financial secretary for Local 1260, depleted the union’s surplus of more than $700,000 in 2010 to a net deficit of more than $700,000 in 2014, according to the indictment.
He then proposed a resolution toward the end of 2014 to greatly hike union dues from an average of 1.5% to 3% in April 2015; 3.5 % in April 2017; and 4% in April 2019.
The resolution was unpopular and, according to the indictment, the Ahakuelos and Estencion rigged the results of the membership votes so that it would pass. Specifically, they falsified the election results in two of the nine bargaining units.
The Ahakuelos allegedly used union funds to finance personal travel, meals and pay off a car loan, while Brian Ahakuelo hired family members who did little or no work for the union, according to the indictment.
IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson placed Local 1260 under trusteeship in 2016 and moved to return roughly $3.7 million to Local 1260’s members.
Michael Brittain, Daniel Rose, Lee Ann Miyamura and Russell Yamanoha, who is now a spokesman for Honolulu’s rail project, were also charged in court documents filed today with helping rig the election to increase member dues.