Jury deliberations are underway in the theft trial of Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi.
Kenoi is accused of misusing his government-issued pCard for personal purchases, mostly alcohol-related.
Last week, Kenoi’s defense team brought out witness after witness to try to refute the several receipts prosecutors presented to the jury, where Kenoi used his pCard to pick up the tab that the defense claimed were all business-related social gatherings.
Kenoi’s former managing director, who set up the Hawaii Island pCard system, said the mayor had complete authority to spend funds on entertainment and liquor purchases. When Kenoi took the stand last Wednesday, he was very emotional and said he was offended of being accused of such a thing and spoke of his deep love for Hawaii Island.
During cross-examination, Kenoi did not deny that he told the media he did not have a credit card when he did, and he did not deny that on separate occasions, it took him nearly a year to pay back the county on some purchases.
Before jurors entered the courtroom Monday, the defense tried unsuccessfully to get Judge Dexter Del Rosario to dismiss the remaining charges.
So the jury heard one more time from both sides.
The courtroom was packed for closing arguments with extra chairs brought in to seat Kenoi’s family and supporters. For the first time, the mayor appeared anxious, breathing heavily.
The prosecution said that the issue isn’t whether Kenoi is a good mayor. It’s about theft.
“No one is above the law. A person’s position, prominence, or power should not affect the justice they receive,” said deputy attorney general Kevin Takata. “Ask yourself, is alcohol necessary to establish or maintain relationships? Did the mayor abuse his authority in buying alcohol? He had authority. It’s not unfettered. You don’t get to do whatever you want. Did he abuse his authority? Did he buy too much too often?”
Takata also reiterated the argument that Kenoi only made the reimbursements after media outlets started asking questions.
“There were five times he paid county back for other expenses. When did he do that? March 28, 2014; April 11, 2014; May 2, 2014; July 9, 2014; Feb. 9, 2015. Five times he paid county back, and didn’t pay them back for this (separate transaction),” said Takata. “Five times he decided what to pay and five times he decided what not to pay. That’s theft. How many days passed? Look at this: 802 days. Over two years. Two years! This stands out loud and clear. That’s theft.”
Meanwhile, the defense argued that Kenoi did not do anything illegal, and that he is allowed to make purchases at his discretion under a “broad and expansive, far-reaching law.”
“Everything’s transparent. This is a county, to-be-reimbursed, expense. He could have made up anything,” argued attorney Todd Eddins. “If someone is stealing, you’d expect to see lack of transparency. In this case, you have computer systems, accounts payable, the director of finance. It’s all out there.”
Eddins admitted that Kenoi violated credit-card policy. “You don’t want to blame others. He’s not going to blame others. He’s going to be humble and take responsibility. It wasn’t his most polished moment, but he says there’s no intent to shift any burden,” he said. “Think about this. If he believed in his heart that he committed crimes, would he even be up there talking to the media?”
He pointed out that “the county was not out one penny” and Kenoi’s decisions were driven purely from working to make Hawaii Island a “wonderful place to live.”
“Mayor Kenoi will be the first to admit, is, it wasn’t an ideal situation as far as tracking things. You had 18 departments in this administration and the one that has the most unique purchases doesn’t have an account, doesn’t have an account clerk. You’ve got to treat the mayor the same as everybody else, then treat him the same as everybody else,” Eddins added. “They had an informal system. The system should have been better on paybacks. It wasn’t. But that shows no intent to permanently deprive.”
Jurors could not reach a decision by 4 p.m. Monday, so they’ll return Tuesday morning.