Updated: December 7, 2023
Former Hawaiʻi State Rep. Ty J.K. Cullen, 42, of Waipahu, Hawaiʻi, was sentenced Thursday to two years in federal prison for honest services wire fraud. The charge stems from his acceptance of bribes in return for performing official legislative acts on behalf of Honolulu businessman Milton Choy.
According to the prosecution’s argument, Cullen accepted casino chips and thousands of dollars in payment for the purpose of influencing support or manipulating legislation to benefit the private company. Earlier reports indicate the payment was for actions involving cesspool legislation.
Justice Department officials say Cullen accepted more than $30,000 including payments of: $5,000 in September of 2019; $3,000 in December 2019; $5,000 in January 2020; $10,000 on March 10, 2020; $2,000 in June 2021; and $5,000 in October 2021.
The gifts were not declared on mandatory disclosure reports, according to the Department of Justice.
Cullen, who served as the Vice Chair of the House Committee on Finance, was sentenced by Senior United States District Judge Susan Oki Mollway.
“Cullen’s acceptance of bribes while serving as a state legislator significantly undermined the public’s confidence in its elected officials,” said US Attorney Clare E. Connors in a department news release. “By using his position to accumulate personal wealth, he betrayed the trust of those who elected him . This office has prioritized public corruption investigations and will hold officials who violate the public trust accountable by prosecuting them to the full extent of the law.”
House Speaker Scott K. Saiki issued a statement calling the incident a “wake-up call.”
“What Ty Cullen did was wrong, and the House of Representatives does not condone his actions,” said Speaker Saiki. “The House has increased its ethics trainings for members and staff, and advanced over two dozen pieces of legislation to improve our ethics laws and how we operate in the Legislature. We are taking this action because we do not want this kind of incident to happen again.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation that resulted in the filing of the Information.
“The insidious nature of public corruption is such that it gradually erodes the very fabric of our society, causing widespread damage to our institutions and corroding the public’s trust in them,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill. “This sentence unequivocally signals that acts of public corruption will not be condoned, and that the FBI will persist in its relentless efforts to investigate these individuals who misuse their positions of power for personal gain.”
Choy was the same individual identified as “Person A” in the bribery case involving former Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English, and a separate case involving former director of the Maui Department of Environmental Management, Stewart Olani Stant, who was accused of steering $19 million in contracts to H2O Processes, LLC, a company run by Choy.
English was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. Stant was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to honest services wire fraud involving the acceptance of multiple bribes totaling up to $2 million.