It was a high-profile public school shakeup — a principal, star football coach, and other staff gone amid an investigation with no details made public. But a big community impact was left behind.
So what happened at Kaiser High School?
Always Investigating has been pressing the Department of Education for years for information on the Kaiser case, and at every turn was told ongoing investigations kept everything under seal. Now we’ve learned what the DOE and criminal authorities were looking at, and the outcome – which cleared those accused, but has yet to clear the air.
While John Sosa was in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2013 getting a “Principal of the Year” award, back in Honolulu, the DOE had a different message for the 45-year educator: Don’t come back to the school. You’re on department-directed leave.
“You’re being investigated for fraud,” Sosa recalled being told. “I know I wasn’t doing anything that wasn’t to the benefit of the school, but you’re still racking your brain, you know? Is it possible that I did something that I wasn’t aware of? You feel ashamed. You feel discouraged. You feel angry. You just feel junk.”
An investigation had been set off by a tip to the DOE Fraud and Ethics Hotline that Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi had set up earlier that year.
“You don’t know with the anonymous fraud line whether or not it’s someone whose just angry and trying to put something out there,” Matayoshi said, “so you do need to take a look at it.”
Even, she says, when a heralded principal’s name is in the mix.
“I was very surprised, maybe a little angry, because any time something like this comes up, it taints the whole department, whether or not it’s true in the end,” Matayoshi said. “When the allegation comes up and, of course, hits the media, it affects the school and it affects the community.”
Sosa retired as Kaiser’s principal in December 2013. He says the DOE investigation continued into improper reimbursements and misuse of appropriated funds, school facilities, and contracted personnel.
Our years-long open-records pursuit finally yielded details of just how far the case went. A letter from Matayoshi dated June 2014 — nearly a year after the DOE started investigating — asked the attorney general’s office to review, stating, “There appears to be evidence to show that there are several instances where Mr. John Sosa, (former football coach), Mr. Rich Miano, and (former strength training volunteer) Mr. Chad Ikei misappropriated funds or misused facilities.”
“Late that summer, the AG’s office contacted me, the investigator, and eventually, he showed up at my home,” Sosa said. “I’d done a great job for 45 years and six months. The last three months was pure hell, and that’s not a nice way to end a career.”
Sosa, Miano, and Ikei all retained lawyers. Kaiser alums Miano and Ikei left the school shortly after Sosa retired.
The criminal investigators persisted with questions of a financial nature, even phone record reviews. More than a year later in the fall of 2015, attorneys for all three were told the AG was dropping the case and no charges were filed.
The DOE stands by its concerns and its referral to the attorney general.
“Based on what the staff and I discussed, looking over what they had determined in this complicated investigation, there was adequate evidence to provide it to the attorney general for their opinion,” Matayoshi said. “I think Kaiser is in a good place now.”
Always Investigating asked if the DOE believed there was money to be returned.
“I don’t know. Certainly, any payments to students or coaches beyond what is allowed as a stipend or as part of their regular job would not be allowed,” Matayoshi said. “If it’s given to a student, I don’t know of any situation where that has happened personally. If it was to a coach for some reason, if it was for work done, they’re being paid. If there was anything else, it would depend on the circumstances of the case,” which she said is left up to the AG to determine.
Head coach Miano had made Division II state champions out of Kaiser’s football team with volunteer strength coach Ikei at his side.
Always Investigating asked Sosa: To your knowledge, was there money being spent for recruiting at the school?
“No, none,” Sosa said.
To his knowledge, was there money being used for travel or comforts or benefits to the players or their families for any of these sports?
“No,” Sosa said. “Rich was accused of recruiting, and Rich didn’t. Parents seek what’s best for their children. Good coaches will attract athletes. They knew he was a good coach. They would follow the geographic exceptions rules and bring their kids to Kaiser. It’s parents exercising the rights they had.”
We pressed the DOE for details on what they found that led them to believe funds were misspent or resources misused. We found there had been at least three other Kaiser staff dismissal or discipline cases connected to the Sosa investigation. The DOE said that because at least one of those other cases was still in the grievance and arbitration process, they couldn’t disclose any of the evidence in all of the cases.
A “binder containing evidence” was referred to in the DOE’s letter to the attorney general about Sosa, Miano, and Ikei. We asked for the binder and were only provided pages with policies about facility use and rental.
“There was some grumbling about Chad’s use of the facility,” Sosa said. “That was all done under the use of facilities regulations that were in place at that time. He also used our facility to train athletes as part of his business, which we talked about up front when he came on board.”
Sosa said Ikei paid rent.
“In those days, under those rules, principals had the right to set whatever amount was necessary to cover the rental,” Sosa said. “There was not a set table, there was a guide. Principals over the years had been allowed to adjust that to meet the needs of the school. Once they changed it, we went by the prescribed directives, and in Chad’s case, he started paying a much higher rent.”
Always Investigating reached out to both Miano and Ikei. They didn’t want to talk on camera, but Miano said in a statement: “I resigned from Kaiser three years ago with the sole purpose to spend more time with my family and give exposure and opportunities to thousands of Hawaii’s youth while teaching life lessons.”
Ikei told Always Investigating by phone: “People see success at a place that’s not supposed to be successful, and they can’t fathom it was from hard work and sacrifice. People don’t believe, so they start to assume we’re doing something wrong.”
Always Investigating asked Matayoshi if she stands by the amount of time and resources that were spend at the DOE level, what she would change, and if lessons were learned that led to new or revised policies.
“I think I would have like to have done it faster, but it was complicated,” Matayoshi said. “I think the biggest thing is really focusing on the use of facilities and being very clear about what is required in terms of the paperwork and the payments. The other was that when it comes to complex cases, we were not adequately staffed, and we’ve added investigators. I do think it took too long. It just took too long.”
Even though this case has finished, it and other long-term investigations are still having an impact on the future direction of the DOE, and it leaves both sides wondering if ulterior motives were behind the investigations then, as well as superintendent Matayoshi’s ouster now as her contract is not being renewed.
We’re digging into that in Part 2 of this report on Monday.