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Judge rejects plea in former Maui officer’s sex solicitation case

                                Former Maui Police Officer Brandon Saffeels
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Former Maui Police Officer Brandon Saffeels

A U.S. judge on Monday rejected a former Maui police officer’s guilty plea in a case accusing him of soliciting sex from a woman he pulled over for operating a vehicle while intoxicated in exchange for giving false testimony at her trial.

Brandon Saffeels said he offered to testify untruthfully. But when U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi asked if he made his offer in exchange for solicitation of sex — as federal prosecutors alleged — he said he wasn’t admitting to seeking any sexual favors if he lied at the woman’s trial.

He told the woman that he “would stumble on my words to make my testimony not credible,” he said.

A court document charging Saffeels with honest services wire fraud said he allegedly used his position as a police officer to access the woman’s cellphone number and solicit sex in exchange for sabotaging the case against her.

A federal prosecutor and an FBI agent read text messages and phone call transcripts between Saffeels and the woman about her case. They discussed how the charge could get dismissed with his botched testimony and he asked her to go to his house. But there were no direct references to sex.

The woman felt Saffeels’ statements to her were a bribe for sex, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mohammad Khatib said. She interpreted his statements as “sexual overtures,” he said.

Maui prosecutors dropped the charge against the woman after portions of text messages and recorded phone conversations were published by the media, Khatib said.

Saffeels was expected to plead guilty, but Kobayashi took issue with how prosecutors charged him, accusing him of bribery.

Khatib said prosecutors maintain Saffeels made the offer expecting the benefit of sexual favors.

“There’s no talk about sex in those communications,” Saffeels’ attorney, Victor Bakke, said after the hearing. “It was our position that all of this sex stuff and bribery is completely irrelevant. That’s not what he’s charged with.”

Bakke said he plans to meet with prosecutors about redacting the bribery information.

The U.S. attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the hearing.

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