State briefs for July 19

Accountant sentenced for stealing $866K from businesses

HONOLULU — An accountant has been sentenced to 10 years in prison after he stole $866,000 from four Hawaii businesses.

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Justin Ha, 47, was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty to 85 counts of theft and forgery.

Ha was convicted of stealing from his employer, AMH Inc., and three other businesses for which he was contracted to do accounting work.

“Your honor, I had a very bad gambling problem,” Ha told the judge at the sentencing hearing Monday.

Ha forged 81 checks from 2013 to 2017 and used the money to pay off credit card debt and student loans, authorities said. The money also funded trips and bills at restaurants, bars and strip clubs.

“I don’t care what your reason was,” Judge Rom Trader said. “Nothing about that gave you the right to steal money from these people. You knew exactly what you were doing every time you did it.”

Ha apologized in court to his former employer and the other victims, requesting a sentence of probation.

“On his own, before anyone ever questioned him, confronted him, investigated it, he came forward to his bosses and admitted what he had been doing,” defense attorney Thomas Otake said.

The judge denied the request, saying probation was not adequate for the crime.

“I accept whatever punishment you give me today because I know I deserve it,” Ha told the court.

The judge ordered Ha to pay the stolen money back, but prosecutor Chris Van Marter told the court that it was unlikely the businesses will receive meaningful restitution.

“He has huge debts but no assets,” Van Marter said. “He doesn’t even have a job that produces income.”

Honolulu mayor directs city to prepare for climate change

HONOLULU — Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has directed city departments and agencies to prepare for the effects of climate change and sea level rise.

The mayor issued the mandate Monday requiring the departments and agencies under his jurisdiction to view climate change as an urgent matter and to take action to protect and prepare the city for the physical and economic effects of it.

Under the directive, city managers must propose revisions to shoreline development rules and construction standards. It also calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and for infrastructure and key facilities to be elevated or moved.

“If we’re going to thrive as a community, whether it be the city and county of Honolulu or any other city on this planet, action needs to be taken now,” Caldwell said. “The science is irrefutable. And we must adjust.”

The directive is in response to a city Climate Change Commission brief prepared from a state report on climate change and sea level rise. The report projects coastal flooding, erosion and property damage affecting hundreds of businesses and public buildings. It also estimates that 13,300 residents could be displaced by midcentury.

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The report predicts flooding from rising sea levels of more than 3 feet (1 meter) by midcentury and about 6 feet (2 meters) by the end of the century.

“It is the issue of our time, bar none,” Caldwell said. “Things are changing. We can sit on the sidelines and report it, talk about it and commiserate or we can take action.”

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