Two ex-Hawaii lawmakers were accused of accepting bribes to shape legislation during their time in office. They pleaded guilty Tuesday.
Ty Cullen resigned as a member of the state House of Representatives just before federal prosecutors announced that he and former Senate Majority leader J. Kalani English were being charged.
English retired from the courtroom in May, claiming that he was still suffering from the long-term effects COVID-19. U.S. Judge Susan Oki Mollway told him that he continues to receive long-term COVID-19 treatment twice per week.
English and Cullen both agreed to forfeit approximately $15,000 as part of their guilty pleas to honest services wire fraud. Cullen was to forfeit $23,000 to represent the cash they received.
They will be sentenced July 5. Each of them faces up to 20 years imprisonment, but their sentences will be determined by various factors. This includes reduced sentences for taking responsibility and pleading guilty earlier.
According to court documents, the Democrats received bribes in return for shaping legislation that would be beneficial to a company involved with publicly-financed cesspool conversion project.
English, representing east Maui, Molokai, and Lanai, said to Mollway that he believes the legislation is beneficial for the people of Hawaii as well as the business owner.
He said, via video link from Hana on Maui, “It helped both sides.”
English was a member the Cesspool Conversion Working Group. This group was responsible for developing a plan to convert cesspools into more environmentally-friendly waste treatment systems, or connect them to sewer systems by 2050.
English, in accordance with English’s plea agreement, agreed to provide a copy of the draft reports to the business owner.
According to the plea agreement, English was told by the business owner that he could do something for Kalani. He also said that there were things that he couldn’t do and that he could do them. Together, we will find a way.
Prosecutors said that English also received envelopes of cash and bribes, including Las Vegas hotel rooms.
According to court documents, Cullen represented Waipahu as well as West Loch on Oahu. Cullen also received New Orleans casino chips from the business owner, while they attended a wastewater conference.
According to his plea agreement, Cullen used chips from the business owner as well as wagers placed for him by the business operator, and he was able to cash out more than $22,000 in chips while in New Orleans.
Cullen presented a bill to develop a system to collect wastewater from existing sewage systems as a favor to the owner of the business, according to court documents. According to the plea agreement, the bill was passed and a subcontract was issued to the company.
English and Cullen also received cash to pay the bills related to cesspools.
Cullen stated via video that he had not disclosed the payments on his gift disclosure forms.
In court documents, the business owner is only identified as “Person A”.
The state Senate issued a statement Tuesday condemning the actions of the former legislators.
The statement stated that “their actions do not reflect the values and standards we strive to uphold in public office.” “The Senate will continue taking the necessary steps to increase transparency and combat corruption, and to expand ethics training for all members and staff.”
Scott Saiki, House Speaker, stated that he is committed to rebuilding trust in the legislative process.
Saiki stated that former legislators had used their positions to their advantage. “Their actions have tainted any legislative work they may have done, as well the entire Legislature.”