Updated: December 5, 2023
Senior United States District Judge Susan Oki Mollway today sentenced former Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English, to 40 months in federal prison. The 55 year old Maui resident was also ordered to pay a fine of $100,000.
English was sentenced for charges of honest services wire fraud consisting of acceptance of multiple bribes in return for performing, and agreeing to perform, official legislative acts on behalf
of a Hawaiʻi businessperson.
The Department of Justice cited the prosecution’s argument to the court saying, “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.”
According to the Justice Department, the court also received information that on Feb. 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, according to a department release.
According to court documents, 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, the Judiciary reports that 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,” according to the Department of Justice.
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, according to the department.
“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 US Attorney Clare E. Connors in a department release. “He criminally abused the power of his official position to serve his personal interests rather than the people of Hawaiʻi, which is misconduct the federal government will prosecute in order to hold elected officials accountable.”
In response to the sentencing today, Speaker Scott K. Saiki said, “The House of Representatives does not condone the actions taken by the former legislators. I hope this serves as a message to everyone in government that there can be no tolerance for unethical conduct.”
“As a former Hawaiʻi politician is sentenced today for public corruption, the taxpayers of Hawaiʻi 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 Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill. “We will not stop in our pursuit to bring these types of cases to the US Attorney’s Office for prosecution and ensure that the best interests of the people of Hawaiʻi are served.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation that resulted in the indictment. Assistant US Attorneys Ken Sorenson, Micah Smith and Michael Albanese handled the prosecution.