Milton J. Choy, the wastewater treatment and industrial machinery executive at the center of a federal public corruption probe, has donated $160,150 to state and county lawmakers since 2014 and received nearly $6 million in government contracts.
Identified as “Person A” in two felony charging documents filed Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Justice, Choy allegedly bribed two state lawmakers with cash and other gifts.
Choy has been represented by attorney Michael Green for several years, Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Wednesday. Green declined to comment on whether Choy was cooperating with the U.S. Department of Justice in exchange for favorable treatment in any possible criminal case.
The federal public corruption probe involving lawmakers focuses on allegations dating to at least 2014, with Choy thus far helping the Justice Department in bringing charges against retired state Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English and former vice chairman of the House Committee on Finance, Rep. Ty J.K. Cullen, who resigned Tuesday before the charges were made public.
In a statement to the Star-Advertiser, Choy said his political giving has been “drastically curtailed” since “initiating support dating back to 2006.”
“No contracts that we received resulted from those donations,” he said. “Donations were made in support of candidates we believed to benefit our environmental challenges.”
The $6 million in county and state contracts to Choy’s companies include sanitization operations related to COVID-19, wastewater treatment and filtration, and the operation of temporary emergency shelters. According to county procurement records, at least two of the largest contracts, totaling a little more than $4 million, were sole-sourced, meaning Choy’s company, H2O Process, was identified as the only one that could meet the bid requirements.
Since 2014, Choy has donated to dozens of lawmakers, including two governors, three mayors, Council members in each county, and the chairmen of the money committees in the state House and Senate.
Milton Choy, Jarret Choy, two other family members and two business managers of wastewater and industrial equipment companies, H2O Process Systems LLC and Fluid Technologies, owned by Choy, have donated $268,046 to candidates for Hawaii office since 2014.
During the period of time when the pair of former lawmakers allegedly accepted bribes, English was Democratic majority leader, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Technology and a member of the Senate Committees on Ways and Means and Transportation. Cullen also served on the House Pandemic and Disaster Preparedness Committee and the Government Reform Committee.
Choy’s businesses are registered in Hawaii as a foreign limited-liability company and a firm that buys, manufactures, distributes and sells wastewater treatment and equipment products, according to the Business Registration Division of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
English and Cullen have agreed to plead guilty Tuesday to federal charges that they accepted cash, Las Vegas hotel rooms, dinners for friends from Tahiti and playing chips from a casino in New Orleans in exchange for supporting and killing bills and providing insider information to benefit Choy’s businesses between 2014 and 2021.
Specifically, the lawmakers sought to influence legislation to help Choy benefit financially from Act 125, which was approved by state lawmakers in 2017 and requires the conversion of all cesspools in Hawaii by 2050.
For example, according to court documents, on June 12, 2019, English and Person A attended a lunch meeting where the Maui senator asked the business executive to provide him with the comments English would be submitting to the Cesspool Conversion Working Group for its draft report.
“Because it’s a draft and they are asking us to give comments, if there’s any comments you guys want, just write them out and I can submit it,” English told Person A, according to court documents.
From 2015 to 2019 Choy gave Cullen’s campaign a total of $6,000: $2,000 in 2019, $2,000 in 2017, $1,000 in 2016 and $1,000 in 2015. Jarret Choy gave $1,000 to Cullen in 2017.
During that same period, Milton Choy gave English’s campaign $8,000. He donated $2,000 in 2019, $4,000 in 2018, $1,000 in 2016 and $1,000 in 2015. Jarret Choy gave English’s campaign $5,000 from 2017 to 2018.
Milton and Jarret Choy gave Gov. David Ige’s campaign $8,000 in 2017, and former Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s operation got $6,000 in 2014.
A spokeswoman for Ige told the Star-Advertiser neither Person A nor Person A’s family member ever asked Ige for help with legislation or any other matter. The governor does not know Person A or his family, said Jodi Leong, Ige’s deputy communications director and press secretary.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s campaign received $7,500 between 2020 and 2021, and former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s candidacy was supported with $8,500 between 2016 and 2021. Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami’s election efforts between 2017 and 2019 received $4,500 in support from Choy.
Blangiardi said he had not known the identity of Person A or Person A’s family member.
“In every situation, the mayor’s actions in his official capacity are independent of and unrelated to donations,” said Tim Sakahara, Blangiardi’s communications director.
Lex R. Smith, Caldwell’s attorney, told the Star- Advertiser the former mayor’s approach has always been to “appoint quality people and rely on them to do their jobs consistent with all applicable rules.”
“(Caldwell) is shocked by the allegations about the Legislature and does not believe such things occurred by him or his appointees,” Smith said.
There are five current state lawmakers who received more than $5,000 in campaign contributions from Choy and his family member.
Senate President Ron Kouchi’s campaigns received $10,500 between 2015 and 2020; Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran’s election work got $10,000 between 2017 and 2021; Senate Ways and Means Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz’s campaign got $8,300 between 2016 and 2018; and Sen. Dru Kanuha’s elections received $6,000 in support between 2018 and 2020.
“The identity of Person A has not been released by the Department of Justice or the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Therefore, we do not want to speculate, and we believe that it is inappropriate to comment at this time,” said Jacob Aki, communications director for the Hawaii Senate, speaking for Kouchi. “However, we do want to express that our votes are based on the merits of issue/bill and are not influenced by campaign contributions.”
Keith-Agaran told the Star-Advertiser political contributions do not determine policy and that his campaign works with the Campaign Spending Commission to ensure donations are legal and properly documented. “A lot of people have supported my campaign over the years I’ve served. I work on the priorities I have campaigned on and the interests and needs of my community and the state,” said Keith-Agaran.
Dela Cruz told the Star- Advertiser his campaign also works with the spending commission to ensure donations are proper and in compliance. “Many people have supported my campaign over the years. I advocate for the platforms I have campaigned on and the interests of my district and the state,” said Dela Cruz.
“Donations to my campaign would never influence my decisions,” Kanuha told the Star-Advertiser. “My community dictates my advocacy and my voting record would speak for itself.”
House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke’s campaign got $9,500 between 2014 and 2019 and also emphasized that she has received campaign donations over the years from many individuals and entities.
“I am meticulous about reporting them, as I believe the public has a right to know who is contributing,” said Luke. “Contributions should not affect policy decisions. My policy decisions are based on what is best for the taxpayers of our state.”
Maui Mayor Michael Victorino received $3,000 in 2018 from Jarret Choy. Victorino was unavailable Thursday and is traveling for a National Association of Counties conference, according to a Maui County spokesman.
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami and staff met with Milton Choy in 2019, but “there has been no instance” in which Kawakami engaged in conversations regarding county contracts, Sarah Blane, Kawakami’s communications director, told the Star-Advertiser.
Cullen will be arraigned and enter a guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway at 11 a.m. Tuesday. English is scheduled to be arraigned and enter a guilty plea as part of his arrangement with the Justice Department before Mollway at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
DOJ officials declined to discuss the details of English’s and Cullen’s plea deals until they are entered into the record Tuesday. It is not clear how or whether English and Cullen are cooperating with the ongoing DOJ probe.
Cullen and English are not in custody and will remain free pending their initial appearance. Cullen represented Royal Kunia, Waipahu and Makakilo. English represented Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe.
Cullen is accused of taking $23,000 in bribes from 2019 to 2020 from Person A to work on legislation to benefit Choy’s wastewater and sewage treatment company.
English solicited money, dinners and lodging from Person A in exchange for his work on Person A’s behalf, according to court documents. He did not disclose hotel rooms allegedly provided to him in June 2019 at a cost of $1,805, the $500 in cash he accepted in June 2019, $1,000 in cash provided to him in February 2020 or $10,000 he took in March 2020, according to the felony information.
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