Former English state legislator sentenced to more than three years in federal prison

A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced former Hawaiian lawmaker J. Kalani English to more than three years in prison for accepting thousands of dollars in bribes to influence wastewater policy in the state.

English had a long political career as a Maui County Councilor before serving in the Legislative Assembly for two decades. Since 2014, he has been the majority leader in the Senate.

English was arrested in January 2021 after a years-long FBI investigation found he had accepted more than $18,000 in cash and other gifts, including meals and hotel rooms in Las Vegas , in exchange for his influence on the course of wastewater legislation.

Hawaii District Judge Susan Mollway sentenced English to 40 months in prison followed by three years of probation. English was also ordered to pay a fine of $100,000. He was not arrested on Tuesday but will report to a federal detention center on August 16.

Former Senator J. Kalani English leaves US District Court after being sentenced.
Former Senator J. Kalani English, center, leaves U.S. District Court after being sentenced to 40 months in federal prison. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Mollway said English readily accepted bribes over several years. And he did it without seeming to need more money. He owned several properties in Hana and ran a consulting business earning extra income on top of his lawmaker salary. The case, Mollway said, was all about greed.

“What you have done here is so serious, so damaging to the fabric of society, that a severe sentence is certainly warranted,” the judge said.

Assistant United States Attorney Kenneth Sorenson said Tuesday’s jail sentence “sends the message that those who peddle elected office for their own financial gain and greed will be punished severely.”

English requested a 30-month sentence reduction. Prosecutors were asking for a 42-month sentence.

English could have been sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison, although sentencing guidelines in his case suggest he should spend between 37 and 46 months behind bars. Sorenson said the government considered English’s cooperation with federal authorities when recommending a prison sentence.

“We want someone who immediately accepts responsibility, cooperates with our investigation — which is critical to moving forward in this type of case,” Sorenson said. “We have to (send) the message that you are not going to get hammered if you cooperate. But you will get a significant penalty.

Neither English nor his attorney Richard Sing would comment after leaving the federal courthouse.

Addressing the court, English said he was disappointed in himself and said he took responsibility for his actions. He plans to spend time reflecting and reassessing his life.

The case, he said, was “devastating to my life”.

English retired from the Senate in 2021. He was arrested by federal agents in January of that year. But the corruption revelations didn’t come to light until February, when English was indicted along with former state Rep. Ty Cullen for participating in a scheme to influence sewage, sewage and water bills. to sumps in Hawaii.

English first came to the government’s attention in 2019, when he asked Honolulu businessman and prolific political donor Milton Choy for hotel rooms in Las Vegas. At the time, Choy, who is only listed as Person A in court documents, was already working as an FBI informant.

English accepted thousands of dollars in 2020 to first introduce a bill and then kill it.

“It’s easy to kill bills, it’s hard to pass them,” he said in a conversation cited in court records.

Sing, English’s attorney, said the former lawmaker only asked for one gift from Choy, hotel rooms in Las Vegas. All other bribes were paid after Choy approached English.

“But Mr. English couldn’t resist the temptation,” Sing said.

Molway rejected this argument.

“What you did was not a momentary surrender to temptation,” Mollway told English. “You had the mindset – not a momentary swerve. You had the idea that you could do this, and it seems like you didn’t think you could get caught.

Cullen, another lawmaker prosecutors say took kickbacks from Choy, is expected to be sentenced in October. Along with English, he pleaded guilty to felony charges in February.

Coverage of Maui County by Civil Beat is funded in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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