Two former Hawaii lawmakers who allegedly “defrauded citizens of the state” when they took part in a bribery scheme to benefit a company pleaded guilty Tuesday to felony charges, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) announced.
Jamie Kalani English, 54, and Ty Cullen, 41, were charged with one count each of honest services wire fraud. They are scheduled to be sentenced on July 5 and face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if found guilty.
However, the sentences they receive will depend on various factors, including reductions for taking responsibility by pleading guilty early.
English, a Democratic state senator and Senate Majority Leader, represented Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Kahoolawe from 2000 until 2021 while Cullen was a Democratic state representative for communities including Village Park, Waipahu, Royal Kunia, West Loch, and Makakilo since 2013.
According to the DOJ, the defendants “defrauded the citizens of the State of Hawaii of their right to honest and faithful services as elected legislators through bribery and concealment of material information.”
Prosecutors claim that both English and Cullen accepted multiple bribes in return for performing, and agreeing to perform, official legislative acts over several years on behalf of a Hawaii businessperson, identified as “Person A” in court documents.
The bribes, or gifts, included cash and hotel rooms, among other things, prosecutors said.
However, English and Cullen failed to report any of the bribes and gifts paid and given to them by Person A in their annual mandatory gift disclosure reports, prosecutors said.
“As a part of their official gift disclosure submissions, English and Cullen emailed this false and misleading disclosure form, thereby using interstate commerce,” the DOJ said.
Specifically, in 2019, English received two hotel rooms in Las Vegas, where he was attending a concert, by the businessperson.
In return, English later allegedly emailed the businessperson a draft legislative report concerning “cesspools which could directly benefit Person A’s company.”
In that same year, English asked the businessperson to host him and his family at a local Honolulu restaurant for dinner. While the businessperson could not attend, he allegedly provided $500 to English for the dinner, which English accepted.
A year later, English introduced into law a “Senate bill involving cesspools that could directly benefit Person A’s company.” In return for introducing the bill, prosecutors said, the businessperson paid English $1,000.
However, a few months later in March, the businessperson offered English $10,000 in cash to kill that very same bill, which English allegedly accepted, stating “it’s easy to kill bills.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill did not advance.
In another instance, English allegedly accepted another $5,000 from the businessperson in return for anticipated legislative assistance. That money, prosecutors said, was hidden by English under a mat in his vehicle during a subsequent law enforcement traffic stop.
Cullen, meanwhile, also benefited from a series of bribes over several years by the businessperson, the DOJ said.
These included casino chips in New Orleans in return for supporting legislation that would benefit the businessperson’s company and $5,000 for anticipated legislative assistance that would also benefit their company.
Cullen also accepted payments in the amounts of $3,000 in December 2019, $5,000 in January 2020, and then $10,000 on March 10, 2020, $2,000 in June 2021 and $5,000 in October 2021.
The payments were made to Cullen from the businessperson “for the purpose of influencing Cullen to support or manipulate legislation that would benefit” their company, prosecutors said.
As part of a plea deal, English agreed to forfeit $15,305 and Cullen will forfeit $23,000, according to Hawaii News Now. Both were released on a $50,000 bond on several conditions, including surrendering their passports and other travel documents, according to the report.
Cullen resigned from the state House of Representatives last week shortly before federal prosecutors announced charges against him and English.
English retired in May, citing the long-term effects of COVID-19, which he said he is still receiving twice-weekly treatments for.
The Epoch Times could not reach lawyers for English and Cullen for comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.