County workers describe pCard process on second day of Mayor Kenoi’s trial

Kevin Dayton

Editor’s Note: The court will no longer allow us to live stream the proceedings. Stay with for periodic updates throughout the day.

More county workers took the stand on day two of the criminal trial for Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi in Hilo.

Kenoi is on trial for four counts of theft, three counts of tampering with government records, and one count of making a false statement under oath for his alleged misuse of his county issued credit card, also known as a pCard.

On Wednesday, jurors got more details about how the pCard process works.

The state is trying to prove its case with more details on the 15 purchases the mayor made and digging up receipts of those purchases which the mayor never turned in.

The indictment by the state attorney general also alleges three specific incidents of tampering:

  • In October 2011, he listed a $320 transaction at Hilo Yacht Club as an “Office Strategic Planning Luncheon.”
  • In March 2013, he listed a $125 purchase at Longs Drugs as a “Poke Contest Volunteer Appreciation Event.”
  • In June 2014, he listed a $200 transaction at Volcanoes House Restaurant as a “Luncheon with U.S. Conference of Mayors visitors.”

The mayor’s secretary, Paulette Wilson, was grilled about purchase summaries turned in to the county, raising questions over whether they were legitimate county-related events.

“The strategic planning luncheon. Where did it come from — the characterization and the description?” the prosecution asked.

“From the mayor,” she said.

The state argued that there’s no one overseeing the mayor’s alcohol purchases with the pCard, because he’s the only one authorized in the county to approve those transactions.

“So the mayor is allowed to authorize his own purchase of alcohol?” the prosecution asked.

“With his approval, yes,” said Deanna Sako, Hawaii County finance director and pCard administrator.

“With approval from who?” the prosecution asked.

“The mayor,” she said.

“So the mayor doesn’t require approval, correct? He just approves his own purchases?” the prosecution asked.

“I believe that’s what the policy says ,” Sako said.

But during testimony from Kevin Dayton, the mayor’s former executive director, defense attorneys were able to strengthen their case that Kenoi was very effective during social gatherings. During cross-examination, Dayton talked about how effective the mayor is at influencing people because of the way he’s been able to make contacts through lunches and dinners that include alcohol.

“Is trust established a lot more through face-to-face meetings?” the defense asked.

“I think so. It’s kind of hard to — a voice on the phone as opposed to someone who sits and talks with you could be a pretty big difference,” Dayton said.

Dayton added that the luncheon at Hilo Yacht Club, which was also a farewell party for him, included talking about how the transition will be when he leaves. So in effect, county business was done during that luncheon.

“At one point, the mayor sort of focused on me and said, you know paraphrasing here, but said basically, ‘I want to be sure your stuff gets passed on and don’t you leave me — if I’m remembering right — don’t you leave me with an empty file cabinet and an empty office.’ The implication, what I interpreted that to mean was, don’t leave and I don’t know what you were doing, I don’t know who you were doing it with, and we don’t have any paperwork or any files, and I understood that what that meant was there was to be an orderly transition, and he was very set on that,” he said.

“And that was said where?” the attorney asked.

“That would be said at the Hilo Yacht Club,” Dayton said.

“Did you have discussions with others at that luncheon meeting with respect to the transition?” the attorney asked.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Wednesday’s hearing also got a bit testy with Judge Dexter Del Rosario scolding the deputy attorney general.

The trial has wrapped for the week, and on Monday, Oct. 24, the state is expected to call two more witnesses to the stand before the defense takes over.

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