Honolulu City Council anti-bribery bill fades in committee

Bill 36, in its original form, had one purpose: to end corruption within the troubled city Department of Planning and Permitting.

Introduced in June, the draft measure as originally conceived would have denied DPP’s processing of building permits to anyone convicted of, or who pleaded guilty to, bribing a government official in the past 10 years. Likewise the measure, which is scheduled for its second reading at the City Council’s meeting Wednesday, would have disallowed a building permit application if an applicant “participated in conduct that has caused a government official to be convicted of a criminal offense involving the acceptance of a bribe within the last 10 years.”


Also, a building permit application would not be processed if the applicant “caused a government official to enter a plea of guilty or (a plea of no contest) in response to being charged with a criminal offense related to the payment of a bribe to a government official within the last 10 years.”

Although it currently retains its stated purpose to deny access to city-approved building permits to those with criminal histories, the content of Bill 36 now appears quite different.

Notably, the criminal punishment portions of the measure, including bribery, have been removed.

“The original draft, which DPP put forth to Council, disqualified persons from submitting or working on applications to DPP who pled guilty to or were convicted of a criminal offense involving the payment of a bribe to a government official within the previous 10 years, among other offenders,” DPP Director Dawn Takeuchi Apuna told the Hono ­lulu Star-Advertiser via email.

“The current draft removes those provisions.”

That original measure materialized around the time a former DPP supervisor and four other DPP employees were sentenced in federal court in connection with a lucrative bribery scheme.

Occurring from 2012 to 2017, the criminal enterprise involved the speedy review of building permit applications in exchange for large sums of money, placing them ahead of other similar applications — an infamous process that’s taken up to a year or longer to complete.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, after an FBI investigation into corruption at DPP, wire fraud charges were filed against six individuals arising out of schemes in which DPP employees accepted bribes from a local architect, a building contractor and two signage contractors in exchange for performing official acts at the department.

In May, U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi sentenced Wayne Inouye, 66, to 60 months imprisonment, two years supervised release and a $100,000 fine for taking more than $103,000 in bribes in exchange for expediting the approval of permits issued by DPP and for making false statement to federal investigators with intent to conceal his crimes.

According to Takeuchi Apuna, Bill 36, as first drafted, punished acts of bribery that impact DPP.

“Back in 2021, when a certain licensed architect pleaded guilty to bribery, I (and) DPP inquired with the (state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs) whether they were going to revoke his license.

“To this day, they have not,” she said.

“And so DPP doesn’t have a mechanism to refuse to process his applications. With Bill 36 as originally drafted, we would have been the authority to refuse his applications.”

But as to why criminal provisions were removed from Bill 36, Takeuchi Apuna could not fully answer.

“The Council removed it,” she said, noting that “I understand it may be a legal preemption issue because DCCA is the authority for regulating licensed architects and engineers.”

The office of Council member Calvin Say, who chairs the Committee on Zoning which is reviewing Bill 36, also did not immediately comment as to why criminal provisions in Bill 36 were jettisoned.

But in a written statement, Say’s office said the new version of Bill 36 removes a requirement for an affidavit by the owner of the property “that is the subject of the building permit application, stating that the owner has no outstanding fines payable to, or liens in favor of the city.

“This is intended to help streamline the building permit application process and address the current applications backlog,” Say’s statement reads.

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