Honolulu Managing Director Roy Amemiya testified before a federal grand jury Thursday, but his attorney said he is not the target of any federal investigation.
Amemiya, Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s second-in-command, is the highest-ranking person from Caldwell’s staff to be entangled in a federal investigation. And while he did not receive a target letter, both the city and Amemiya’s attorney confirmed he received a “subject letter.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice manual, a person who receives a target letter “is a person as to whom the prosecutor or the grand jury has substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime.” A subject letter is sent to a person “whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation,” the manual said. It implies that prosecutors do not have sufficient evidence to link him or her to a crime, but want to bring the person in to obtain more information.
City Corporation Counsel Donna Leong has been on paid leave since January 2019 after she received a target letter from the Department of Justice.
Lyle Hosoda, Amemiya’s attorney, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser today that he was confirming the information about the appearance only due to media inquiries. Amemiya will not divulge the nature of his testimony or any other details of the investigation, Hosoda said.
“The government has requested that Mr. Amemiya not publicly disclose the fact that he had been subpoenaed in connection with a federal request and, to date, he has abided by that request,” Hosoda said, in a statement. “Now that his connection to the federal investigation has been reported by others, this statement is being provided to dispel any speculation or rumors and is in the interest of transparency.”
He downplayed Amemiya’s receipt of a subject letter. “The ‘subject’ of an investigation is a person whose conduct is within the scope of the investigation,” he said. “His designation as a ‘subject’ is not surprise, given that Mr. Amemiya is a high-level city official.”
Hosoda stressed that “Mr. Amemiya is not a target of the federal investigation and has not been accused of committing any crime.”
Federal investigators are known to be looking into two matters involving the City and County of Honolulu — one involving former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and former Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katherine Kealoha, the other relating to allegations of wrongdoing involving the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.
As part of the investigation that led to the indictments and convictions of the Kealohas on public corruption charges, Leong received a target letter from federal authorities in January 2019. Leong has been on paid leave from the city since then.
A target letter suggests the subject is a target in a federal grand jury investigation, according to the Department of Justice website. Such a correspondence typically is issued by the Justice Department to someone being asked to appear before a federal grand jury involving an investigation into an alleged federal criminal offense.
Caldwell, in announcing Leong’s leave, told reporters that the letter involved Leong’s role in the controversial agreement between Louis Kealoha and the Honolulu Police Commission allowing the embattled chief to retire with benefits, including a $250,000 payout.
An attorney for Leong also confirmed this detail and said her conclusion after reviewing the situation was that her client did not commit a crime.
Leong and then-Commission Chairman Max Sword negotiated the separation package with Kealoha on behalf of the panel, which approved it with a 5-1 vote in January 2017. The exact source of the payout was never disclosed, an issue raised by several commissioners at the time. Meanwhile, then-HPD acting Chief Cary Okimoto and then-Deputy Chief William Axt raised concerns at a Feb. 1 commission meeting that the money would be taken from funding sources already dedicated to department operations. Okimoto said top HPD brass were not consulted about the payment.
William McCorriston, Sword’s attorney, confirmed today that his client appeared for questioning before a Grand Jury Thursday, but declined to answer other questions.
Alexander Zannes, Caldwell’s communications director, said in a statement this morning that the mayor could not comment on an ongoing investigation.
To his knowledge, neither Amemiya nor anyone at the city besides Leong has received a target letter, Zannes said. He added that the administration knew of no one else employed by the city who has received a subject letter besides Amemiya.
The HART matter involves an investigation into contracts. While HART received subpoenas for records more than a year ago, no new developments or activity involving that case have not been made public. It is unknown if any individuals are being investigated in connection with the case.
Hosoda said “Mr. Amemiya has done an exemplary job as the City’s Managing Director over the last five years. He will continue to provide his leadership and guidance in moving the City’s important work forward during these critical times.”
The managing director is appointed by the mayor and typically runs day-to-day operations of the city administration.
Amemiya is the cousin of Honolulu mayoral candidate Keith Amemiya.