Hawaii investigator says state agency is shirking duties

COMPLAINTS: Aquilino “Aku” Idao,Idao, who has worked in law enforcement for 25 years, said is charged with pursuing criminal cases against companies and their owners who violate state law.

By Malia Zimmerman | Watchdog.org

HONOLULU — Some Hawaii companies are taking advantage of visitors and elderly residents, but state officials are thwarting attempts to investigate, a supervisor with the state Department of Commerce says.

Aquilino “Aku” Idao, of the department’s Consumer Affairs’ office, has filed a complaint with two state Senate committee chairman.

Idao, who has worked in law enforcement for 25 years, said he is charged with pursuing criminal cases against companies and their owners who violate state law.

His supervisors have prevented him from pursuing criminal action no matter how egregious, he says.

Idao cites a case in which one company, since 2008, has been targeted with 60 complaints from residents, mainly senior citizens, “for unfair and deceptive trade practices.” The company has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau.

Idao began working for the department in 2012 and began investigating the company, though his supervisors prevented him from pursuing criminal charges.

“I was counseled and written up by the executive director, and I was ordered to cease any criminal investigations. This action resulted in several more elderly complainants being victimized,” Idao said.

Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs

In another case, Idao found several file drawers of consumer complaints filed against a Hawaii business offering “time share vacations.”

“There are hundreds of unreported victims and the losses have surpassed $1 million, as just $900,000 was identified as flowing from one business account in just one year,” he wrote to the Senate chairs.

Brent Suyama, a spokesman for the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, said the department cannot comment on personnel matters. “However, we can say that the matter is under review by the director’s office of DCCA.”

Suyama said the department would not disclose its policy regarding whether it allows its investigators to pursue criminal cases.

Idao has worked with several law enforcement agencies in various positions over the past two decades, including as a conservation enforcement officer for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, a supervisory investigator for the Honolulu city prosecutor’s office, a special investigator for the state Department of Human Services, a special investigator for the state attorney general’s office, a criminal investigator for the Hawaii County prosecutor, an investigator with Pinkerton Government Services in Manhattan and as a Hawaii County police officer.

In addition to informing key senators about his concerns, Idao has filed complaints with his union, the state’s labor relations board and with the state attorney general’s office.

Senate Public Safety Chair Will Espero, D-Ewa, one of the Senate recipients, said he would review Idao’s complaint and determine whether to take it to the Legislature.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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