Ex-IBEW union boss and family plead not guilty
Ex-union boss Brian Ahakuelo, and his wife and sister-in-law — also union employees — pleaded not guilty in federal court to a 70-count indictment of criminal conspiracy and wire fraud for using union money for personal expenses, rigging a vote to increase union dues, embezzlement and money laundering.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
Ex-union boss Brian Ahakuelo, and his wife and sister-in-law — also former union employees — pleaded not guilty in federal court to a 70-count indictment of criminal conspiracy and wire fraud for using union money for personal expenses, rigging a vote to increase union dues, embezzlement and money laundering.
The three, each represented by a court-appointed, government-paid lawyer, were arraigned Wednesday in federal court before Magistrate Judge Rom Trader, and requested a jury trial.
Ahakuelo, 58, who was business manager and financial secretary of Electrical Workers Local 1260; his wife, Marilyn, 55, and her sister Jennifer Estencion, 52, remain free on $50,000 unsecured bond.
Current and former union employees Michael Brittain, Daniel Rose, Lee Ann Miyamura and Russell Yamanoha are scheduled to plead guilty next month to misdemeanor conspiracy to defraud the United States for their role in the alleged vote-rigging scheme by preparing fake “Yes” ballots.
They have presumably cooperated with the government and accepted plea deals.
Ahakuelo proposed a resolution to hike union dues to 4% from 1.5%, then fixed the results of the vote. The scheme netted an extra $3.7 million in union dues from 2015 to 2016 from members of IBEW Local 1260, which represents about 3,000 electrical workers in Hawaii and Guam.
Ahakuelo drained Local 1260’s surplus of over $700,000 in 2010, and left a net deficit of more than $700,000 in 2014, the indictment says.
It likely will be at least a year before the complex case will go to trial, said Louis Ching, Brian Ahakuelo’s lawyer.
The judge ordered the defendants to surrender their passports, but permitted the Ahakuelos to travel to their Virginia home of three years, with a stop in North Carolina for a grandchild’s soccer game. While in Hawaii, Marilyn Ahakuela will be confined to Oahu; Brian Ahakuelo can travel on Oahu and to Hawaii island for business. Estencion must remain in Hawaii.
When asked whether his client could afford a private attorney, Ching said the court evaluated the financial affidavits and appointed the lawyers.
Ching hinted at a possible plea change, saying Ahakuelo “is a strong advocate for the union … I think at the very end, I think he’ll look at what is in the best interests for both the union and his family.”
He said the case will depend on “whether others are testifying truthfully or trying to testify just to get a deal so they don’t have to go to jail.”
Estencion’s lawyer, Megan Kau, said the government gave her client “the opportunity to turn anybody in,” for the past three years, “but she doesn’t know anything … and maintains her innocence.” She said her client is a bookkeeper, who now works at a day care center.
As for loyalty to her sister, Kau said, “They’re close, but I don’t think Jennifer Estencion would do something illegal because her sister asked her to.”
Ahakuelo allegedly placed inexperienced people on the union executive board, hired family members and paid them excessive wages.
His salary jumped to $201,492 from $160,285, and both his wife and Estencion were paid salaries of six figures.