Freebie parasail rides net harbor agent ethics fine

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HILO — The Department of Land and Natural Resources has joined Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth in asking the state attorney general to investigate the ethics issues and allegations that continue to roil the waters at West Hawaii small boat harbors.

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HILO — The Department of Land and Natural Resources has joined Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth in asking the state attorney general to investigate the ethics issues and allegations that continue to roil the waters at West Hawaii small boat harbors.

In the latest case, a DLNR harbor agent overseeing the Kailua-Kona and Keauhou Bay harbors was fined $1,000 for soliciting and accepting free parasailing trips from a company he regulates.

William Nahale also agreed to pay UFO Parasail $238.45 in restitution, following an agreement with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, according to a report the commission filed Feb 16. In the settlement, Nahale admitted he used his state email address to arrange for free rides, which he took Oct. 28 with another adult and three minors.

“He informed UFO Parasail’s staff that he wanted to go parasailing with ‘close friends,’ and in response, UFO Parasail offered the free parasailing rides,” the Ethics Commission report states. “Nahale then sent emails from his state email account stating that ‘I will find some way of giving back to you guys for sure,’ and that ‘I’ll be sure to kick down some specialties for you and your staff as compensation,’” the report said.

Representatives from UFO Parasail declined to comment on the case.

DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison said the Ethics Commission investigation was initiated in response to questions and information from Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation officials, and the finding “triggered an internal personnel investigation into this matter.” It’s not known what, if any, disciplinary actions were taken against Nahale.

“DLNR took immediate action once it became aware of a potential ethics violation,” Dennison said in an email message, adding DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case and DLNR leadership “remain committed to ensuring all staff abide by state ethics guidelines.”

Nahale’s duties include issuing use permits, collecting fees and costs from businesses operating in the harbor, coordinating enforcement of ocean and permitting laws, assisting in the promulgation of rules governing harbor activities and making recommendations as to whether businesses should be permitted to operate, the Ethics Commission found.

“Respondent’s regulatory authority over the company providing the rides is particularly significant in this case,” the report said.

The Ethics Commission said state ethics laws relating to improper gifts and fair treatment were likely violated, but the commission agreed to waive a formal finding because Nahale had no prior charges before the commission and because he cooperated. The fair treatment provision prohibits state employees from using their state positions to gain unwarranted advantages or benefits for themselves or others.

Coincidentally, the same day Nahale was taking his parasail expedition in Kailua-Kona, his 2012 actions were discussed in Honolulu as part of an unrelated issue, and Case was telling the Board of Land and Natural Resources, “Just to make it crystal clear, we don’t tolerate corruption.”

Dennison reaffirmed that message still stands.

“Apart from this specific matter, DLNR has also requested an independent investigation by the Department of the Attorney General regarding all complaints or concerns involving the Hawaii Island DOBOR district,” Dennison said.

At issue at the Land Board was local charter Capt. William Murtaugh’s request for a contested case hearing after DOBOR refused to renew his commercial boat ramp permit at Keauhou Bay. Murtaugh had been questioning DOBOR’s allocation of moorings since 2012, and he claims he lost his mooring permit, his gross receipts were audited and other actions were taken by DOBOR staff in retaliation.

Murtaugh said his troubles began after he complained to DLNR officials that Nahale had altered records to misstate the size of his son’s boat, thus displacing him on a mooring waiting list. The Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement turned the complaint over to Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth, who initiated a criminal investigation.

Murtaugh said Thursday Nahale admitted altering the government record, but the issue later became moot, as no moorings were issued. In the meantime, he said, he spent several hundred dollars on attorney’s fees to get the matter resolved.

Although no charges were ultimately levied, “Mitch Roth’s involvement was key,” Murtaugh said Thursday, because it put DOBOR on notice that it was being scrutinized.

Roth’s testimony Oct. 28 before the Land Board, in turn, brought Nahale’s boss, DOBOR Administrator Ed Underwood, into the controversy. Underwood filed an ethics complaint with the Hawaii County Board of Ethics against Roth, saying he misused his government position by testifying in support of a private interest.

The Board of Ethics last month cleared Roth of wrongdoing, saying he was within his rights to testify about his perceptions of corruption. Roth paid his own way and took leave from his government job for the meeting and didn’t take compensation for his actions. Still, the county ethics board said, the county charter gives him the power to appear before government boards and agencies in his official capacity as well.

The board is scheduled to finalize its findings at a meeting Wednesday in Hilo.

Roth said Thursday he’s following the ongoing issues closely, although he’s turned his case over to the state attorney general. He called the latest revelations “the tip of the iceberg.”

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“It seems that the (state) ethics commission found that there is corruption; the question is, how deep does it go,” Roth said. “I have been told there’s an ongoing investigation, so I can’t comment too much on it.”

A spokesman for Attorney General Doug Chin said Thursday he also couldn’t comment.

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