HONOLULU (AP) — The mayor of Hawaii County charged Heineken beer and Crown Royal whiskey to his government credit card at a drug store and passed off the purchases as official business, a state prosecutor said Tuesday.
The expense is one of 15 credit card transactions prosecutors are using as evidence in the felony theft trial of Mayor Billy Kenoi in Hilo.
Michelle Puu of the state attorney general’s office told jurors during opening statements that Kenoi didn’t provide the county with receipts for any of the purchases.
He reimbursed the county for some of the expenses but only months later after someone from the media filed a request seeking copies of the mayor’s county card purchasing reports, she said.
“When you reimburse funds after you’ve been caught making illegitimate purchases, that’s not an innocent mistake. That’s theft,” Puu said during her opening statement at the trial streamed live on Hawaii television station websites.
Puu also detailed a $600 charge by Kenoi to his county credit card in Washington, D.C. Kenoi didn’t provide a receipt and told his finance staff he took congressional staffers out to dinner, she said.
Puu said there didn’t appear to be any food on a receipt obtained by her investigators, just alcohol.
Defense attorney Todd Eddins said Kenoi would invite people out after working hours to build trust and friendships. He said that’s how the mayor would get people to take his calls once he returned home to his island in the “middle of the Pacific.”
Puu also said Kenoi claimed the March 17, 2013, purchase of alcohol from Longs Drugs store involved a daytime festival celebrating poke, or raw cubed fish dishes — even though a receipt obtained by prosecutors showed he bought the liquor, along with pineapple juice, at 7:30 p.m.
Eddins countered that Kenoi bought the alcohol to thank volunteers for their work at the festival.
The Crown Royal and pineapple juice combination appeared again when Kenoi charged $170 to the card at a Tommy Bahama’s restaurant on the Kona side of the Big Island, Puu said.
Eddins said that charge was for entertaining financial insurance industry meeting planners who were having a convention at the Fairmont Orchid hotel. Kenoi was trying to woo them to hold future gatherings in Kona, Eddins said.
Kenoi would buy alcohol at various events to show his appreciation for people and build relationships, Eddins said. The mayor paid back the county for personal expenses, he said.
The mayor has an entertainment budget and is empowered by county law to use it, Eddins said. “He did everything in the interest of the county,” Eddins said.
A grand jury indicted Kenoi in March on two counts of felony theft and other charges.
The indictment came after Attorney General Doug Chin launched an investigation when Kenoi acknowledged using his county-issued credit card to cover personal expenses, including nearly $900 at a Honolulu hostess bar in 2013.
Hostess bars typically involve female employees sitting with patrons and serving them drinks.
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