Not guilty: Mayor exonerated of pCard theft allegations

Mayor Billy Kenoi nods to jurors after receiving a not guilty verdict from the jury completing his trial Tuesday (Nov 1) in Hilo’s Circuit Court. Photo by Hollyn Johnson/ Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Hawaii 24/7 Staff

Mayor Billy Kenoi was found not guilty Tuesday (Nov 1) on all charges related to allegations he misused a county credit card. Following a two-week trial, a Big Island jury found the two-term mayor not guilty on five charges.

Kenoi did not comment after the verdict was announced Tuesday afternoon in a Hilo courtroom.

The five men and seven women on the jury heard testimony over two weeks and took roughly five hours over two days to reach their verdict.

Mayor Billy Kenoi and his wife Takako leave court together after Kenoi was acquitted on all charges in his trial Tuesday (Nov 1). Photo by Hollyn Johnson/ Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Attorney General Doug Chin later stated in a written release, “The crime of theft requires proof a person intended to permanently deprive his victim of what he stole. The prosecution argued that not paying back funds to the county of Hawaii until after the press caught him was proof of Mayor Kenoi’s intent. We respect the verdict and thank the jurors for their service.”

Previously, Kenoi’s attorney Todd Eddins said the theft charges were ‘a stretch,’ as the mayor at no time intended to defraud the county and he never intended to profit from the pCard purchases.

Kenoi initially faced eight counts related to 15 transactions that he billed to his pCard between 2011 and 2014. Judge Dexter Del Rosario last week dismissed three counts related to tampering with government documents.

The jury was tasked with ruling on four counts of theft — including two Class C felonies and two misdemeanors. The remaining charges also included one count of making a false statement under oath.

Kenoi’s spending originally was revealed in early 2015 by West Hawaii Today reporter Nancy Cook Lauer, after which Kenoi apologized and reimbursed the county $31,112.59.

The mayor’s attorneys claimed Kenoi reimbursed the county for personal expenses billed to his pCard and noted there was no prohibition against purchasing alcohol on his pCard.

They asserted Kenoi paid for liquor and food to thank volunteers at island events or to promote the Big Island and bolster its economy.

According to published reports, the first count of second-degree theft involved nine pCard purchases Kenoi billed to the county in 2011:

* $422.69 for hosting people associated with the Big Island Film Festival at Sansei Restaurant

* $140 at Chart House restaurant

* $479.88 at the Hilton lobby bar in Baltimore for an after-hours gathering at a U.S. Conference of Mayors event and also an outing for staff of Hawaii’s Congressional delegation

* $292.60 for a two-night stay at Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, a wedding present for his nephew

* $81.24 for a garment bag at Target en route to a flight to Honolulu

* $130 at Macaroni Grill in Kona where the mayor and his guest testified they discussed county issues

* $181.16 at Huggos

* $320 for a farewell luncheon for mayoral aide Kevin Dayton, who is now the Honolulu Star-Advertiser capitol bureau chief

The second count of second-degree theft involved purchases Kenoi made in 2013, including:

* $600 for an outing to Clyde’s Gallery, which Kenoi claimed involved networking with Congressional staff members

* $125.95 purchase of beer and hard liquor at a Kona convenience store that Kenoi testified was to thank volunteers at Sam Choy’s annual poke contest

* $201.68 purchase at a Kona convenience store for hard liquor, which Kenoi said was to reciprocate a gift from dignitaries attending the Tahiti Fete

* $300 at a Manoa restaurant that Kenoi testified was to recruit former state Rep. Tommy Waters as corporation counsel, in addition to networking with an Oceanic Time Warner cable representative for broadband service improvements

An additional charge of third-degree theft involved a $200 lunch at Volcano House in 2014 that Kenoi described as “Luncheon with U.S. Conference of Mayors Visitors” to host the son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren of the head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

That luncheon also was at the center of the accusation that Kenoi made a false statement under oath.

An additional charge of third-degree theft involved a $170 purchase of alcohol at Tommy Bahamas in 2014 that Kenoi testified was related to hosting planning representatives.

Deputy attorney general Kevin Takata and deputy prosecuting attorney Michelle Puu have not made public statements.

Kenoi leaves office in early December, turning over the county’s top elected post to Harry Kim, who previously has served as Civil Defense chief and two terms as mayor.