Former Hawaii state Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison Tuesday for his role in a bribery scandal that shook the island state to its core.
He also will serve three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.
“This was not just any elected official. This was the majority leader of the Hawaii State Senate,” said Ken Sorenson, chief of the Office of the U.S. Attorney in Hawaii’s Criminal Division. “This is an incredibly powerful man with a lot of position to sell, to market, to peddle to bribery. So having an individual like him on the on the wrong end of all these bribes is incredibly damaging.”
“As we stated when recommending a term of imprisonment, English, as a prominent leader in the State Senate, shoulders significant responsibility for any deficit of confidence in our public officials,” said U.S. Attorney Clare E. Connors.
“He criminally abused the power of his official position to serve his personal interests rather than the people of Hawaii, which is misconduct the federal government will prosecute in order to hold elected officials accountable.”
“As a former Hawaii politician is sentenced today for public corruption, the taxpayers of Hawaii should know that the FBI continues to vigorously investigate those who misuse their official position for their own personal financial gain,” said Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill.
“We will not stop in our pursuit to bring these types of cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution and ensure that the best interests of the people of Hawaii are served.”
DOJ issued a statement that said: “Senior United States District Judge Susan Oki Mollway sentenced Jamie Kalani English, age 55, former Majority Leader of the State of Hawaii Senate, today to serve 40 months in federal prison and pay a fine of $100,000 for honest services wire fraud consisting of acceptance of multiple bribes in return for performing, and agreeing to perform, official legislative acts on behalf of a Hawaii businessperson.
“According to the prosecution’s argument to the court, English was never reluctant about taking money in return for political and legislative favors.
“English’s behavior signaled that it was systematic and normal for him to accept, and indeed expect, financial benefits in return for legislative favors.
“It was English who unknowingly initiated the FBI covert relationship with him by reaching out to Person A with a demand for hotel rooms in Las Vegas for English and some of his friends.
“The court also received information that on February 24, 2020, English accepted $1,000 from Person A for assistance with cesspool legislation that could directly benefit Person A’s company, telling Person A that he “should formulate what you would like to see” in the bill.
“On March 11, 2020, Person A met with English and offered him $10,000 in cash to kill the cesspool bill. English accepted the $10,000 stating “it’s easy to kill bills.” Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the bill did not advance.
“In January 2021, English accepted another $5,000 from Person A in return for anticipated legislative assistance to Person A. During a subsequent law enforcement traffic stop, English hid the $5,000 under the vehicle’s floor mat.
“On his annual mandatory gift disclosure report, English failed to report any of the bribes and gifts Person A paid and gave him. As a part of his official gift disclosure submissions, English emailed this false and misleading disclosure form, thereby using interstate commerce.
“In sentencing English to federal prison and imposing the $100,000 fine, Judge Mollway observed that an elected public official who had the power to affect legislation and was willing to accept a bribe was a “terrible combination.”
“She called it a “terrifying prospect” that accepting a bribe was so natural to him that he could receive it as if normal,” DOJ said.
It will be the first time in more than 20 years that a Hawaii elected official has faced sentencing by a federal judge.
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