Former Democratic leader of Hawaii Senate sentenced to 40 months in prison on bribery and corruption charges

A prominent former top Democratic official in Hawaii will soon be serving time behind bars instead of his constituents following his recent sentencing in a bribery and corruption case.

Former Hawaii Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English (D) was just sentenced on Wednesday to serve 40 months in federal prison, the Conservative Brief reported.

He had pleaded guilty in February to a charge of honest services wire fraud and admitted that he had accepted bribes from a prominent businessman and donor in exchange for manipulating legislation in favor of that donor’s wastewater treatment business.

Bribery and corruption

According to the Associated Press, in addition to the 40-month sentence, U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway also sentenced English to an additional three years of supervised release once his prison term has ended as well as a $100,000 fine.

That sentence fell in between the three and a half years that prosecutors had called for in order to send a message and the two and a half year sentence defense attorneys had requested in light of English’s cooperation with investigators after he had been arrested.

Prior to the sentencing hearing, Hawaii’s Star-Advertiser had reported on some of the details of the bribery scheme that took down the former state Senate majority leader as well as an apparent accomplice, former state Rep. Ty Cullen (D), who also served as vice-chair of the House Committee on Finance and will face his own sentencing in October.

Per federal court documents, English and Cullen were alleged to have accepted more than $18,000 in bribes in the form of cash, dinners, casino chips, and hotel rooms from a prominent donor and executive, Milton Choy, in exchange for providing insider information and either introducing or killing legislation that would favorably impact Choy’s company, H2O Process Systems.

The corrupt tradeoffs were all alleged to have occurred between 2014-2021. English was quietly arrested in 2021 and resigned a few months later, though he had publicly blamed his resignation at that time on the lingering effects of “long COVID” following an infection in November 2020 and made no mention of the corruption charges pending against him.

Businessman and donor was secretly working with feds

Honolulu Civil Beat reported in February that Choy, who was referred to only as “Person A” in the federal documents, had actually been working with federal investigators on bribery and corruption cases for several years, according to the businessman’s attorney.

It is unclear, however, if his cooperation with investigators was limited to just English and Cullen or if he was involved in any other probes involving other lawmakers, whether in Hawaii or elsewhere.

That is a legitimate question, given that Choy was described as a “prolific donor” who, along with others in his family, have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to numerous political campaigns over the past eight years, including at least $160,000 from Choy himself to some 55 different predominantly Democratic candidates since 2014.

Meanwhile, Choy and his company could face some scrutiny of their own over the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars that have been received via now-questionable government contracts for Choy’s cesspool and wastewater treatment services.

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