At his sentencing in federal court on July 5th former state Sen. J. Kalani English learned how much time he will spend behind bars. English arrived in court expecting a lighter sentence. His lawyer asked for 30 months. While the prosecutor wanted a harsher sentence – to send a message that elected officials who accept bribes will be severely prosecuted.
WATCH THE NEWS VIDEO OF HIS GUILTY PLEA:
“This was not just any elected official, but the majority leader of the Hawaii State Senate with a lot of position to bargain, peddle, and sell. So having an individual like him on the other end of the bribes was incredibly damaging,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Sorenson.
English has pleaded guilty to wire fraud for failing to report the money and gifts he was given in exchange for his efforts to kill a cesspool bill.
“He was incredibly easy about accepting bribes, taking money. Many times it was his idea. He was not shy about taking money and performing favors for that money,” added Sorenson.
Judge Susan Mollway declared that when English took the bribes, “He was not under duress. He was not in need. This was a matter of greed.”
Before the judge, English said he was deeply remorseful and sad for his actions, but could not explain why he did it. He was given a sentence of 40 months in federal prison.
“This is a stain on Hawaii, on the Legislature and Hawaii politics,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii.
This case revealed illegal bribes by individuals and following the money is one means of tracking donations to legislators. But there are other ways in which these donations can reach lawmakers.
“We need to know who is trying to influence who is getting elected,” said Ma.
While some people may be repulsed by Hawaiian politics because another former leader has been convicted, Ma is hoping that this will encourage more people to get involved in the island’s politics. “This is a clarion call for civil engagement and for more voting and more watching government. This is not a time to turn away. This is what happens when people turn away,” added Ma.
In addition to the 40 months of jail time, English will have to pay a $100,000 fine. He will begin serving his sentence on August 16.
English and former House Representative Ty Cullen both pled guilty in mid-February for failing to report money on their annual financial disclosure reports. The two men took money from H20 Process Systems executive Milton Choy and passed legislation in favor of the company – a blatant violation of the state’s ethics code.
English allegedly received at least $18,000 in bribes, including hotel rooms in Las Vegas and $10,000 in cash to kill a cesspool bill. English has since retired from the state legislature in 2021, saying he has symptoms of long-term illness.
THE OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE FROM JUSTICE.GOV SAYS THE FOLLOWING:
According to the prosecution’s argument to the court, English was never reluctant about taking money in return for political and legislative favors. English’s behavior signaled that it was systematic and normal for him to accept, and indeed expect, financial benefits in return for legislative favors. It was English who unknowingly initiated the FBI covert relationship with him by reaching out to Person A with a demand for hotel rooms in Las Vegas for English and some of his friends.
The court also received information that on February 24, 2020, English accepted $1,000 from Person A for assistance with cesspool legislation that could directly benefit Person A’s company, telling Person A that he “should formulate what you would like to see” in the bill. On March 11, 2020, Person A met with English and offered him $10,000 in cash to kill the cesspool bill. English accepted the $10,000 stating “it’s easy to kill bills.” Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the bill did not advance.
In January 2021, English accepted another $5,000 from Person A in return for anticipated legislative assistance to Person A. During a subsequent law enforcement traffic stop, English hid the $5,000 under the vehicle’s floor mat. On his annual mandatory gift disclosure report, English failed to report any of the bribes and gifts Person A paid and gave him. As a part of his official gift disclosure submissions, English emailed this false and misleading disclosure form, thereby using interstate commerce.
In sentencing English to federal prison and imposing the $100,000 fine, Judge Mollway observed that an elected public official who had the power to affect legislation and was willing to accept a bribe was a “terrible combination.” She called it a “terrifying prospect” that accepting a bribe was so natural to him that he could receive it as if normal.
“As we stated when recommending a term of imprisonment, English, as a prominent leader in the State Senate, shoulders significant responsibility for any deficit of confidence in our public officials,” said U.S. Attorney Clare E. Connors. “He criminally abused the power of his official position to serve his personal interests rather than the people of Hawaii, which is misconduct the federal government will prosecute in order to hold elected officials accountable.”
“As a former Hawaii politician is sentenced today for public corruption, the taxpayers of Hawaii should know that the FBI continues to vigorously investigate those who misuse their official position for their own personal financial gain,” said Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill. “We will not stop in our pursuit to bring these types of cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution and ensure that the best interests of the people of Hawaii are served.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation that resulted in the indictment. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ken Sorenson, Micah Smith and Michael Albanese handled the prosecution.
Photo: screencap of YouTube news video.