Hawaii public school facilities officials fined for ethics violations

HONOLULU — The state Ethics Commission has fined Scot Y. Sueoka, a superintendent in the state Department of Education’s Facilities Maintenance Branch, $11,000 for having state employees do construction work on his properties.

Two other Facilities Maintenance supervisors, William Gebhardt and Francis Cheung, also had to pay penalties for using state workers for their personal projects. The branch has about 200 employees, including carpenters, masons, electricians and laborers, to work on Hawaii’s public schools.

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All three officials claim that the work was not done on state time. The Ethics Commission contends, however, that the work likely violated the state’s fair treatment and/or gifts law. It issued the penalties based on facts agreed to by the individuals it investigated.

The fair treatment law prohibits state employees from using their position to obtain unwarranted privileges, advantages or benefits and engaging in substantial financial transactions with subordinates. The gifts law prohibits state employees from soliciting or accepting gifts or services that may be intended to influence them in their jobs.

Sueoka has been general maintenance and services superintendent in the facilities branch for more than a decade. In a statement posted on the commission’s website, he admitted paying subordinate employees to work on an apartment building in Kailua and his home in Pauoa. Two other employees, whom he described as friends, helped him for free.

“The commission investigated respondent Sueoka’s actions and believes that respondent Sueoka likely violated the Fair Treatment Law and/or Gifts Law by engaging in substantial financial transactions with subordinate employees, accepting free labor from subordinate employees and using state email, computer equipment and time for personal and/or private business purposes,” the resolution said.

The commission required Sueoka to pay an administrative penalty of $11,000 and it referred the matter to the Department of Education “for further action as appropriate.”

In a separate case, Gebhardt, an engineer overseeing the Facilities Maintenance Branch, was fined $3,500 for accepting free labor from subordinate employees for home renovations. He said he offered to pay for their time but they declined payment.

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In the third case, Francis Cheung, administrator of the Facilities Maintenance Branch, was fined $750 for asking an employee to make a small cabinet for his wife and for paying another employee $600 to help him move. He said he reimbursed the cabinet maker $50 for materials and bought him lunch.

The opinions are posted online at ethics.hawaii. gov.

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