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Thursday February 2nd, 2023 7:35PM

Prosecutors in Hawaii unseal public corruption, bribery case

By The Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) — Federal prosecutors in Hawaii have announced bribery and public corruption charges against a Hawaii business owner and a Maui County official.

Court documents unsealed Thursday accuse Milton Choy, the owner of a Honolulu company that provides wastewater services and supplies, of bribing Stewart Olani Stant, who was a wastewater manager and then director of the Maui County Department of Environmental Management.

U.S. Attorney for Hawaii Clare Connors said at a news conference Thursday that the case is among the largest bribery investigations in state history. She said Choy provided Stant with more than $2 million in cash and gifts that included direct deposits to Stant's bank accounts, cash, gambling chips and trips to Las Vegas.

In return, prosecutors said Choy received upwards of $19 million in business contracts from the county.

Messages left for Stant on various social media sites were not immediately returned. Listed phone numbers had been disconnected.

Choy took responsibility for his actions and admitted everything he did to federal investigators, said his attorney Michael Green.

“He gave unprotected statements — that’s where you don’t ask for a lawyer and you you sit down with the agents and tell them what you did. And he did that. And he was he candid the whole time and told them everything he knew about corruption,” Green said.

If found guilty, Connors said, Choy would be required to forfeit assets up to $15 million and face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted, Stant would be required to forfeit $2 million, faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The two will be arraigned in federal court on Monday.

Connors said investigators were tipped off by a member of the public.

“When we received the information from this member of the public, our investigators and prosecutors took a look at it and thought this is significant," Connors said. "It is certainly among one of the largest bribery cases that our our office has investigated and prosecuted.”

Steven Merrill, the FBI special agent in charge of the Honolulu office, said the agency's work investigating corrupt public officials in Hawaii is not done.

“Public corruption is the FBI's number one criminal investigative priority because corrupt public officials undermine the public’s trust and confidence in our government,” he said. “Both individuals individually profited from the scheme, but with no regard to the fact that the citizens of Maui County would be defrauded. They were emboldened to continue the scheme for many years until their greed caught up with them.”

Connors said that Choy was among the first people arrested in recent public corruption investigations and that he cooperated with investigators in cases against two Hawaii state lawmakers who were also prosecuted for taking bribes.

The lawmakers were accused of accepting bribes in exchange for shaping legislation while in office. They both pleaded guilty in February.

Rep. Ty Cullen resigned from the state House of Representatives shortly before federal prosecutors announced charges against him and former Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English.

As part of their agreements to plead guilty, English must forfeit about $15,000 and Cullen agreed to forfeit $23,000, representing the amounts of cash they received.

Cullen is due to be sentenced on Oct. 20. English was sentenced in July to three years and four months.

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