‘Persecuted’ Sweepstakes Operator Spearheads Impeachment of Honolulu’s Embattled Top Prosecutor

Posted on: March 13, 2019, 03:46h. 

Last updated on: March 13, 2019, 03:46h.

Honolulu’s top prosecutor, Keith Kaneshiro — once the scourge of sweepstakes operations in the gamble-dry state of Hawaii — has had a week to forget.

Keith Kaneshiro
Honolulu’s top prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro was accused of malicious prosecution in his pursuit of Hawaii’s sweepstake operators but now the tables have turned. A hearing on his possible civil impeachment has been set for April 30. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

Under investigation for public corruption, the Prosecuting Attorney of Honolulu — an elected official — finally yielded to pressure to step down for the course of the federal probe, Friday, after Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors filed a request with the State Supreme Court to temporarily suspended his law license.

On Monday, a judge in Honolulu set a date of April 30 to hear a civil impeachment case brought against Kaneshiro by a former Hawaii sweepstakes operator who claims he was maliciously prosecuted by him.

Local businessman Tracy Yoshimura pulled the old switcheroo on his former tormentor, having collected over 1,000 online signatures — double the number required — in support of prosecuting the prosecutor and stripping him of his powers permanently.

Yoshimura is currently in the process of collecting hard-copy signatures in case the court chooses not to accept e-signatures.

Bungled Prosecutions  

The businessman was one of a dozen people arrested in 2012 in Hawaii’s biggest ever gambling bust when police swooped on sweepstakes operations in the state. Authorities seized 190 machines owned by Yoshimura’s company, PJY Enterprises, from arcades across Oahu.

Sweepstakes machines accept money from customers and dispense coupons that can later be redeemed for products online.

Yoshimura said in court he believed his machines were legal because they offered players a way to use the devices for free by mailing in a request. He felt he had been running a legitimate business that was registered with authorities, had paid its taxes, and had sought legal advice before launching.

In 2014, a judge agreed that the machines were legal under Hawaii law. The judge also ruled that the prosecution had presented tainted evidence and the lead investigator on the case had committed perjury.

Negligence or Bad Faith

Undeterred, in 2016 Kaneshiro tried to prosecute three of the sweepstakes operators again, including Yoshimura, on 414 counts that included racketeering and money laundering.

But crucially, he only picked the ones who had sued him for the return of their machines in 2012, leading to accusations of malicious prosecution.

Yoshimura also believes he was targeted because he had likened Kaneshiro to John Gotti during a local TV news interview in 2013.

The group was once again cleared, while the prosecution was castigated by the judge for presenting “either a pattern of negligence at the very least, or perhaps worse, bad faith.”

Three years down the line, it’s payback time for Yoshimura, who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to clear his name.

“We went down the impeachment road,” explained Yoshimura’s attorney, Keith Kiuchi, to local news. “We didn’t go down the road of ‘oh well, let’s hope you temporarily remove yourself.’”

The federal investigation against Kaneshiro is believed to be related to the case of a retired police chief and his former deputy prosecutor wife, Louis and Katherine Kealoha, who are accused of orchestrating the framing of a relative to discredit him in a financial dispute.