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Former Honolulu city official pleads guilty in permits bribery scheme

A former building plans examiner with the Honolulu planning department pleaded guilty Tuesday to taking bribes in exchange for expediting the approval of permit applications.

“I took money, which I shouldn’t have, to help these people to get their permits … before others,” Jennie Javonillo told a federal judge in pleading guilty to honest services wire fraud.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Nolan said Javonillo participated in a scheme from 2009 to 2018 to accept cash bribes in exchange for “favorable and preferential treatment” in approving permits.

She took bribes from an architect, a builder, an engineer and others, Nolan said.

As part of a deal with prosecutors, she agreed to pay $58,000. She is scheduled to be sentenced in June.

An indictment last year alleged that five current and former employees of the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting took bribes in exchange for favors, including approving plans for residential projects and nullifying code violations.

Architect William Wong was also indicted. He pleaded guilty last year, admitting he paid about $89,000 in bribes. Former building plans examiner Kanani Padeken also pleaded guilty and admitted she took at least $28,000 in bribes. The city fired her after she pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud.

They’re scheduled to be sentenced in April.

Wong’s attorney, Megan Kau, has said greedy city workers forced architects like Wong to “pay to play.”

Cases are pending against three defendants, who have pleaded not guilty.

Jocelyn Godoy, an employee of the department’s data access and imaging branch, and Jason Dadez, a building inspector, remain on leave with pay, according to Curtis Lum, a department spokesperson.

Wayne Inouye, a former building plans examiner, was retired when they were indicted.

Javonillo, who retired from the city department in 2019, used her personal cellphone to communicate with people she took bribes from, Nolan said. She also acknowledged changing applications to make them look like they were submitted earlier.

City officials have said the building permit process is being overhauled, with changes including requiring applications for single-family dwellings to be submitted electronically and exploring the elimination of cash transactions.

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