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Former Honolulu building inspector gets 5 years in bribery scheme

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The city’s former chief building inspector was sentenced to five years in federal prison and fined $100,000 for taking $103,000 in bribes from a Honolulu architect and contractors to pre-screen and fast-track approval of permits.

Wayne Inouye, 66, a former 38-year veteran of the city Department of Planning and Permitting, entered a plea of guilty Oct. 17 to accepting $103,000 in bribes to pre-screen plans and expedite approval of permits for contractors and an architect.

U.S. District Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi sentenced him to 60 months on each of the seven counts, to be served concurrently. She also ordered Inouye to serve 24 months of supervised release for each count, to be served concurrently.

He must also pay a $700 special assessment.

“The integrity of all government employees is diminished by the criminal acts of those who compromise their positions for personal gain,” said U.S. Attorney Clare E. Connors in a statement to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “The court’s sentence reflects the damage done to the public’s trust and the need to deter such conduct from happening in the future. A top priority of our office remains ferreting out public corruption and holding all involved in such crimes accountable.”

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Craig S. Nolan and Michael D. Nammar prosecuted the government’s case following an investigation by the FBI.

“The public deserves ethical and transparent officials and institutions,” said Steven Merrill, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office, in a statement to the Star-Advertiser. “The FBI continues to vigorously pursue criminals who attempt to violate the public’s trust.”

Inouye retired from city service in 2017 and was indicted March 17, 2021. He created a company to help accept bribes and told an FBI agent and an assistant U.S. attorney on July 11, 2019, that the $100,000 he received was a loan from “Architect 1,” according to federal court documents.

Inouye, who did not reach a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, faced up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of probation for each count of honest services wire fraud. He faced five years in federal prison for lying to investigators.

“Mr. Inouye accepted responsibility, and apologized to the community today in court. It’s easy to judge a man based off of one mistake in an otherwise law-abiding life,” Inouye’s attorney, Thomas Otake, told the Star-Advertiser after the sentencing. “Those who know Mr. Inouye best, know that he is a kind and good person at his core.”

DPP director Dawn Takeuchi Apuna said in a statement to the Star-Advertiser, “The sentence of this former employee reinforces our position of zero tolerance for accepting bribes or providing favoritism as public servants. Our citizens deserve honest and equitable service from government employees, and we will continue to look for and remove those who disregard this basic tenet.

“This also serves as a message to those seeking favoritism from the DPP that this activity is not tolerated. It is unfortunate that the illegal acts of a few tarnish the reputation of the vast majority of employees who work hard each day to serve the public at the highest ethical standard.”

Otake wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed May 24 that the dozens of letters submitted by family members, friends and county co-workers reveal a compassionate and caring man who has never been in trouble with the law and was revered for his work ethic and expertise.

Inouye took to the Honolulu Ethics Commission a proposal to create a for-profit side company to pre-screen building plans before they are submitted to DPP, and the commission “did not tell Mr. Inouye that he could not do so.”

“Architect 1,” William Wong, 73, approached Inouye about the setup and paid him the most money, Otake wrote. Inouye met with Wong at a coffee shop or other off-work site locations during nonworking hours to review plans and tell Wong how to make them code compliant.

Inouye recognizes that the arrangement might have been a legitimate business had he not been employed and drawing a salary from the city. Inouye reimbursed Wong $120,000 prior to his indictment, Otake wrote. In an effort to conceal his bribery scheme, Inouye repaid Wong in October 2017 after learning that the FBI was investigating corruption at DPP, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Inouye helped Wong and two other Honolulu businesses between February 2012 and September 2017. The bribes included $89,205.81 from Wong, $5,250 from a signage contractor and $9,685 from a building contractor.

Inouye used a sole proprietorship named SKI and Associates, a personal cellphone and in-person meetings at places other than DPP to carry out the scheme, and failed to inform DPP of the bribes received by him in exchange for expediting approval of projects, according to federal court documents.

Inouye claimed that he had borrowed $100,000 from Wong for a real estate auction and repaid him with interest, according to DOJ.

Inouye admitted during his guilty plea that the payments from Wong were bribes.

Wong entered a plea of guilty April 7, 2021, to a single count of honest services wire fraud for paying more than $89,000 in bribes and will be sentenced Dec. 1.

Wong and Inouye are two of five people to be caught up in the bribery scheme.

On May 17, Jocelyn Godoy, 60, was working in the DPP’s Data Access and Imaging Branch when she allegedly solicited and took bribes from an architect and third-party reviewer, according to court records. She entered a plea of guilty to a single count of honest serv­ices wire fraud before Chief U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson.

Godoy, a current city employee, faces up to 20 years in federal prison, a fine of up to $250,000, a term of supervised release up to three years and a $100 special assessment. She will be sentenced by Watson at 9 a.m. Aug. 30. She will remain free on supervised release ahead of her sentencing.

On June 27, Watson sentenced former building plans examiner Jennie Javonillo, 73, to 2-1/2 years in prison and two years of federal probation for soliciting and accepting bribes to expedite permit applications.

Watson also ordered Javonillo to pay a $5,000 fine and a special assessment of $100. The judge previously ordered her to forfeit $58,000 to the government as part of a plea deal. She pleaded guilty Jan. 25 to one count of honest services wire fraud in exchange for the government dropping two identical charges.

Jason Dadez, 45, a former DPP building inspector, pleaded guilty Feb. 14 to a charge that involved accepting a $1,000 check from owners of a Waipahu restaurant and corresponding with an architect about an Ala Wai Boulevard residence.

On July 6, he was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.

Kanani Padeken, 38, a former DPP building plans examiner who pleaded guilty in April 2021 to charges of wire fraud and admitted taking at least $28,000 in bribes, will be sentenced by Watson at 9 a.m. Aug. 22.

The story was updated to include a comment from DPP director Dawn Takeuchi Apuna.

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