Ex-Maui official spent bribe money on travel, hostess bars
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser February 7, 2023
The more than $2 million that the former director of the Maui County Department of Environmental Management accepted in bribes and spent on gambling, hostess bars and luxury travel constitutes “the largest single known case of bribery prosecuted “ in the district of Hawaii, according to federal prosecutors.
Stewart Olani Stant, 55, pleaded guilty Sept. 19 to a single count of conspiracy to deprive the public of the right to honest services and faces 11 to 14 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson, in a memo to Chief U.S. District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson, has recommended a sentence at the lower end of the guidelines, noting that Stant was “cooperative with the government’s investigation “ and that his “post arrest conduct “ helped keep the investigation quiet.
“The government recommends a sentence in the lower half of that guideline range, “ he wrote in the memo filed Friday. Stant also agreed to forfeit $1.9 million.
According to prosecutors, Stant took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, bank deposits and Las Vegas gambling junkets complete with luxury accommodations and gambling chips, “all for selling out the public’s trust that he would engage in the honest procurement of goods and services for their benefit and well-being, “ wrote Sorenson.
According to the government, Stant directed at least 56 contracts to wastewater management company H2O Processes in return for hundreds of individual bribes over at least seven years. Between 2012 and 2018 Stant received $733, 176 from H20 owner and manager Milton J. Choy through 43 bank deposits into Stant’s personal bank account, and another $644, 570 through 118 separate cash deposits.
Choy also is accused of paying another $424, 987 to a Hawaii-based travel company to fund Stant’s leisure trips. Stant “lived quite well, “ according to the memo, spending $187, 000 on dining, $60, 000 on hostess bars, $54, 000 on luxury hotel stays, taking out $165, 000 in cash withdrawals and spending thousands on airfare, jewelry and other items.
In June 2017, Stant bought $40, 000 in gambling chips but cashed out more than $183, 000 worth of chips he did not buy, authorities say.
“High public officials are vested with extraordinary trust by the public, and are entrusted with vast discretion. When they use that discretion to line their personal pockets to the tune of nearly $2 million there is a palpable, devastating and enduring loss in the public’s confidence in their appointed officials, “ wrote Sorenson, chief of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “Moreover, high public officials are critical and important community leaders. The public naturally and by necessity turns to them for honest, competent exercise of their public duties and financial discretion. When that trust is so completely betrayed as here, the damage to the public’s confidence in their government, and their officials, is irretrievably compromised.”
Stant’s attorney, Clarence M. Virtue of Wailuku, did not immediately return a Honolulu Star-Advertiser request for comment. Watson is scheduled to sentence Stant at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
In letters of support and pleas for leniency filed with the court, friends, family and co-workers, including former Maui Mayor Alan M. Arakawa and retired Maui state Judge Boyd P. Mossman, spoke of Stant as a dedicated family man and trusted friend.
In an Oct. 1 letter, Ara kawa said Stant—an Eagle Scout, Air Force veteran and member of Maui High School’s Hall of Fame—is a hard worker who always repaid thousands in personal loans Arakawa made to him over the years to start a series of businesses on Maui. He was always a “hard working and intelligent “ employee of the County of Maui, Arakawa wrote, after noting he has known Stant for nearly 30 years.
“He actually disliked having to deal with the politics, the County Council, and the public. He was, however, well respected by his colleagues, employees as well as the County Council because he made it a point to keep his ego under control and he kept his relationships with former colleagues on good terms, “ wrote Arakawa. “In all my interactions with Stewart, he has been a good employee and a good friend.”
Don Couch, the South Maui representative on the Maui County Council from 2011 to 2016, worked with Stant in his capacity as Department of Environmental Management director and after leaving office as a direct marketing business owners.
“He always had the efficient use of taxpayer dollars first and foremost in his dealings with my office and me, “ wrote Couch. “After my term on the council ended, I then got to interact with him as he lead our team of ACN independent business operators. During this time, he always made it a point to help others succeed in their business whenever anyone asked for assistance.”
Stant is one of four public officials to be charged so far in a wide-ranging investigation into public corruption at the state and county levels by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In December, , 71, was charged with corrupt solicitation and acceptance of bribes for allegedly taking money from Choy in exchange for awarding sole-source contracts to his company.
Choy, a big donor to Hawaii politicians, cooperated with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office against former state Senate Majority Leader J.
Kalani English and the former vice chair of the House Committee on Finance, Rep. Ty J.K. Cullen.
Choy offered bribes to English, 55, of Maui, and Cullen, 41, so they would manage and kill legislation at Choy’s direction in exchange for Las Vegas casino chips, cash, hotel rooms and dinners for family members. Choy was not charged with bribing Cullen and English, both of whom pleaded guilty to taking bribes.
in July to 40 months in federal prison for accepting $18, 305 in cash from Choy in exchange for inside information on the Legislature and managing legislation to benefit H20 Process Systems between 2014 and 2021.
Cullen is scheduled to be sentenced April 6.
Through September, 31 incumbent candidates have returned $142, 650 in contributions from Choy to the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund.
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