Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi took the stand in his own defense Wednesday.
The criminal trial, now in day five, focuses on the alleged misuse of his county-issued credit card, also known as a pCard.
Kenoi faces four counts of theft — two of those are felony charges — and one count of making a false statement under oath.
Kenoi appeared emotional and choked up several times as he spoke. He says his humble upbringing in Kalapana helped shape the man he is today.
“You spend your life helping people. You know how it feels growing up without much. People laugh, tease,” he said. “If I got an opportunity to help somebody make it better, that’s how you do. It’s Hawaii. It’s a small town. Everybody knows each other. That’s how that shaped me.”
Kenoi described his philosophy and approach as mayor. He said managing the county is a complex job and equated county departments to some of the largest companies on the island.
“Being a public servant, there are a lot of complexities and decisions you make. You’ve got to be able to create a matrix to make it simple, otherwise you get bogged down in details,” he said.
Kenoi says the motivation for several pCard receipts the state filed court documents on were politically fueled.
He admitted to the jury he picked up the tab for liquor-related purchases, but they were for business-related social gatherings with the intention to help or bring money to Hawaii Island.
Kenoi said he paid the expenses back to the county.
The defense wrapped with the question: “Was it your intent to permanently deprive the County of Hawaii of property?”
“Never. I’d never do anything to hurt this island, this county. I’m offended of being accused,” Kenoi replied.
The prosecution assumed cross-examination Wednesday afternoon.
During cross-examination, the prosecution pointed out that some pCard purchases weren’t reimbursed until media outlets started asking questions.
Deputy attorney general Kevin Takata said it took Kenoi 253 days to pay back one receipt. The mayor did not deny it.
“Lets talk about credit cards. Let’s go back to that interview at the State Capitol. When you spoke to the media while being videotaped, did you tell them the truth?” the prosecution asked.
“I answered the question as best I could, Mr. Takata,” Kenoi replied.
“Did you say, ‘I never had one credit card’?” the prosecution asked.
“I said one debit card,” Kenoi countered.
“But you had a Discover credit card from 2012,” the prosecution said.
“That’s true,” Kenoi said.
After intense grilling, the defense and prosecution had no more questions left for the mayor. He walked off the stand, court convened, and Kenoi greeted and hugged his supporters.
Closing arguments will take place Monday.