KAILUA-KONA — Lawmakers failed this session to pass legislation that would strip state or county employees of retirement benefits if convicted of a felony.
Sen. Breene Harimoto, D-Pearl City, Aiea, Lower Halawa, Pearl Harbor, presented Senate Bill 496, which he said didn’t even get a hearing. The senator has presented the same legislation for at least three years without success.
Two retired Hawaii County police officers are indicted on criminal charges, one facing felony offenses, but they aren’t in jeopardy of losing their pensions because laws in place allow officers convicted of a crime to retain their nest eggs.
“If you commit a felony related to your job, why would you be able to collect your pension?” Harimoto asked.
A Kona grand jury indicted Brian Miller, 55, and Chadwick Fukui, 67, both of Hilo, on charges related to conspiracy and hindering prosecution. Miller is accused of stealing cocaine from the Hilo Police evidence storage locker in 2016.
The most severe charge Miller faces is first-degree promotion of a dangerous drug, a Class A felony punishable by up to 20 years upon conviction. Second-degree theft is a Class C felony punishable by up to five years behind bars. The remaining charges are misdemeanors.
Fukui is charged with two counts each of second-degree hindering prosecution and tampering with physical evidence — all misdemeanor charges — in connection with the Aug. 10, 2017, raid on Triple 7 in the Canario Building in downtown Hilo. Fukui was indicted with four civilians: Lance Yamada, Stacey Yamada, David Colon and Ivar Kaluhikaua.
The civilians face charges of hindering prosecution and conspiracy.
Miller — also accused of tipping off Triple 7 arcade owners Lance and Stacey Yamada about the gambling raid and engaging in a conspiracy to hide or destroy gambling devices — is charged with first-degree promotion of a dangerous drug, second- and fourth-degree theft, obstructing government operations, two counts of second-degree hindering prosecution, and four counts of tampering with physical evidence.
Harimoto said all state and county employees, including police officers, pay into the state’s employee retirement system. SB 496 would have authorized a court to forfeit those benefits of an ERS member, former member or retiree upon conviction for a felony related to the state or county employment of the individual.
The bill also called for designated beneficiaries to receive ERS benefits upon the death of the ERS member, former member, or retiree convicted of the felony.
With the indictments of the former Hawaii police officers and a corruption trial underway on Oahu against former deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha and her husband ex-Honolulu police Louis Kealoha, Harimoto is hopeful his legislation will be reviewed next year.
“It’s sad that it takes these types of things for us to take action,” he said. “Certainly we need to restore public trust in public officials. If something like this would help, we need to do it.”
Hawaii County Police Chief Paul Ferreira said he wouldn’t oppose a measure that seeks to have retirement benefits forfeited if the crime committed is directly related to the individual’s official position and/or duties, so long as it applies to all employees and not just law enforcement.
“Laws are enacted to deter criminal behavior and therefore, a law such as the ones being proposed would accomplish the same purpose,” Ferreira said.
Sen. Les Ihara Jr., D-Kaimuki, Kapahulu, Palolo, St. Louis Heights, Maunalani Heights, Moiliili, Ala Wai, has been introducing measures related to forfeiture or reduction in benefits since 2006. Since 2007, he’s introduced 12 bills, none of which got a hearing.
“The premise is those who breach the public trust should be punished,” Ihara said of the bills.
However, the senator added “the hairy part” is when family is involved.
There was added language in future years, Ihara said, so the perpetrator would be penalized and not the family.
“There needs to be a consequence in breach of public trust for county employees (who commit a felony),” he said.
Several states already have some kind of law in place that punishes public officials or employees if convicted of a felony. This past legislative session, Pennsylvania passed a forfeiture law related to the same issue.