You’ve been running the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Honolulu Division for five months now, which I can only imagine is quite a change from your previous postings in Washington, DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. But I see from the May 21 FBI press release announcing your new assignment that your most recent job was chief of the Public Corruption/Civil Rights Section at the FBI’s Washington, DC headquarters, and that, more than anything, is why I’m writing you this open letter.
You see, the County of Maui Department of Liquor Control is out of control. I’ve covered the department for a while now, and if there’s any agency in the county that could use a disinterested third party nosing around its files and inspectors, it’s the old LC.
There is some precedent for this. About a decade ago, three former Honolulu LC inspectors wound up in federal prison on racketeering and bribery charges. It was quite the scandal over on Oahu. And while I don’t have the evidence to allege anything like that is going on here, there is plenty to suggest that something worthy of FBI scrutiny is taking place at LC headquarters in Wailuku.
“[T]his isn’t the mainland,” recently retired Maui County LC Inspector James D. Lloy allegedly told rookie LC Inspector Justin Dobbs in late April 2011 when Dobbs questioned some of the freebies he and his fellow LC officers were allegedly receiving from establishments they were supposed to be investigating. “[T]hese are gifts of Aloha [and] go along with the program if you want to make it in this Department.”
The quote appears in a lawsuit Dobbs filed in Maui County Superior Court on Friday, Oct. 12 against the County of Maui, Liquor Control Department Director Franklyn Silva, LC Chief Enforcement Officer and retired LC Officers Harry Matsuura and Lloy. I was unable to locate either Matsuura or Lloy by press time (Silva told me Lloy had recently left Maui and gave no forwarding number, and though he said Matsuura was “in the book,” I could find no listing for him).
It’s a stunning lawsuit, full of names and dates and all sorts of charges. As you might expect, the County of Maui’s Corporation Counsel’s office is taking a very hard line against the suit, calling it “frivolous” and “without merit.” Here’s their official response, written by Deputy Corporation Counsel Richard Rost and released a few minutes before 5pm on Oct. 19:
“The claims contained in Plaintiff Justin Dobbs’ complaint are without merit,” read the Corporation Counsel response. “Plaintiff was terminated by the County for misconduct. Plaintiff’s claim for unemployment benefits was rejected because Plaintiff was terminated for cause. In addition, Plaintiff abandoned his union grievance that sought reinstatement to his former job with the County.”
Then the Corp. Counsel’s office–perhaps flush with pride over their recent motion that got former Maui County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jacki Jura’s harassment and wrongful termination lawsuit dismissed from court (in July 20100, MauiTime published my story “Tales From The Maui Prosecutor’s Office,” which has background on Jura’s suit)–got a bit cocky. “The County aggressively defends against frivolous lawsuits,” the Corp. Counsel response helpfully noted. “The County is confident that it, and all the named defendants, will prevail.”
You know what’s really ironic about that Corp. Counsel response? Back in 2006, I watched Rost’s father, a private attorney, win a rare but complete exoneration for his client before the Liquor Control Board of Adjudication.
Dobbs’s suit says he spent five years as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army from 1997 to 2002, and was honorably discharged. From 2005 to 2008, he says he worked as a Deputy Sheriff in the small Northern California town of Marysville. In early 2010, Dobbs’ suit states, he applied to be a Maui County Liquor Control Officer. After passing the written test and getting approval to begin training that summer, he moved his family to Maui.
But Dobbs worked for the LC for barely a year. Terminated by the LC in August 2011 after receiving a letter from his LC superiors stating “that he was under investigation for workplace violence for false allegations that were mischaracterizations taken out of context.” In fact, Dobbs alleges in his complaint, Dobbs says he was a whistleblower who got sick of watching his fellow LC inspectors and employees get tons of freebies from the establishments they were supposed to be inspecting and was fired after taking his concerns to his superiors.
“He thought he could just talk to them,” said Dobbs attorney Carpenter-Asui in a phone interview. “He thought he could massage them into changing. He had just received an impeccable evaluation and a raise. But they came back real fast.”
Dobbs’ complaint names names–both of the LC inspectors Dobbs allegedly witnessed acting in a manner contrary to county policy and of the bars and restaurants (mostly Korean hostess bars) that were offering up free food, drinks and more (Honolulu attorney Venetia K. Carpenter-Asui, Dobb’s attorney, clarified in a phone call that the “drinks” were non-alcoholic). Dobbs alleges that numerous hostess bars also sent the LC’s main office “gifts of food including sushi rolls, pastries [and] doughnuts on a weekly basis” and that “All of the employees of the Department of Liquor Control Enforcement Division and Administration Division would eat these gifts.”
I’m sure you’re already familiar with this, but according to Dobbs’ complaint, here’s what the Charter of the County of Maui says on gifts:
“No officer or employee of the county shall: Solicit, accept or receive any gift; directly or indirectly, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence the officer or employee in the performance of the officer’s or employee’s official duties or is intended as a reward for any official action on the officer’s or employee’s part.”
At times, Dobbs’ complaint reads like a dime novel. Here’s one of the more salacious excerpts, which allegedly took place at “Donna’s Place” (I think he means “Donna’s Lounge,” as there is no “Donna’s Place” listed on Maui):
“[O]n or about December 2010 Plaintiff and Defendant MATSUURA entered the front door, and Plaintiff saw what looked like under age females run to a room in the front of the establishment and close the door. Plaintiff began walking to the room, and was stopped by Defendant MATSUURA who told Plaintiff ‘we do not regulated [sic] the back rooms because there is no liquor served there’, but these were under age females (younger than 21 years of age) in a liquor premises, which was a violation of law, but Defendant MATSUURA still prohibited Plaintiff from investigating or entering the room.”
I was unable to get any sort of comment from a representative of Donna’s Lounge, which seems to be closed. When I called the number listed for that establishment, a woman answered the phone saying, “Cindy’s.” When I asked if the place used to be Donna’s, she hung up on me.
And apparently the LC haven’t restricted themselves to hanging out at hostess bars. One of the more surprising allegations in Dobbs’ complaint was that Dobbs says he witnessed LC Investigator Lloy and a few other LC trainees eating and drinking for free “on a weekly basis” at the swanky Four Seasons Resort in Wailea. Dobbs alleges that Lloy really seemed to enjoy his time there.
“Defendant LLOY would also approach the female hostesses in the Concierge Room for high rollers on the floor above the employee cafeteria, and hug and kiss them, and drink and eat for free, while he was on duty in the capacity of Field Supervisor,” states Dobb’s complaint.
Now Crissa Hiranaga, a marketing and public relations coordinator for the Four Seasons in Wailea, wouldn’t comment on Dobbs’ allegations. “It is the resort’s policy that we do not comment on open litigation,” she told me.
If true, Dobbs’ allegations amount to corruption, and there’s no law enforcement agency on Maui capable of investigating it properly. Sure, on Oct. 19, The Maui News ran a front page article on the lawsuit, but the paper didn’t name any of the retired LC personnel, bars or restaurants listed in Dobbs’ complaint.That’s their deal, but if you’d like to download a PDF copy of Dobbs’ complaint in all its glory, we’ve posted it on MauiTime’s news blog at Mauifeed.com.
I’m sure you’ll find it fascinating reading.
Very truly yours,