Day four of Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi’s trial saw laughter and tears in the courtroom.
The defense got a turn to justify Kenoi’s pCard use. On Tuesday, the jury heard from five witnesses, who all say they’ve been involved in “business-related” social gatherings with Kenoi.
One of those witnesses was Chef Sam Choy. Kenoi’s purchase of liquor for volunteers at an annual poke fest in 2013 is one of the five remaining criminal charges.
Choy told the court he met Kenoi through former Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim. They went to McDonalds and then hit up another food spot.
“When he was running for office, we went to Costco because a hot dog and soda only cost a dollar-something. It’s a good hot dog. I did my homework,” said Choy.
Choy said part of what made the Sam Choy Poke Contest so successful — now going over 30 years — were the event volunteers, and that Kenoi played a big role.
“Were you concerned if you left, no one would take care of volunteers?” the defense asked.
“When I saw Kenoi, I said I know they will be taken care of. That’s his DNA,” Choy replied.
Choy solidified the defense’s stance that Kenoi had authority to buy meals and liquor to help build relationships that would benefit Hawaii Island.
“That’s what Billy did, being creative. You try to put a square peg in a round hole. It takes an extra hour of thinking to do that. That’s what he was champion of,” Choy said.
Next on the stand was former managing director William Takaba, who served under Kenoi and 10 other Hawaii Island mayors.
Takaba set up the county’s pCard system. He said under county law, the mayor has the authority to spend funds as he deems fit, which includes entertainment, food, and liquor.
Takaba learned Kenoi was using his pCard for personal use in 2011, but Kenoi would pay the county back. He said Kenoi went “above and beyond” when paying back county expenses.
“Can I say something? Unfortunately, when he makes a payment for a county-related expense, it gets classified as a personal expense because he reimburses it. I think that is unfair… to the mayor,” Takaba said.
“So he paid money out of his own pocket for county stuff he didn’t have to pay?” the defense asked.
“Right,” Takaba said.
“What did you say?” the defense asked.
“Don’t do it,” Takaba replied.
At one point during Takaba’s testimony, Kenoi wiped tears from his eyes.
The judge adjourned early for “scheduling” reasons. The trial resumes Wednesday morning.
When asked if Kenoi will take the stand, defense attorney Todd Eddins said, “No comment.”