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Hawaii Senate Dem Majority Leader Gets 3 Years in Prison for Bribery

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


Another corrupt Democrat lawmaker has been caught and sentenced to prison.

Former Hawaii Democratic Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English was given 40 months in prison. three years probation and a $100,000 fine for his part in wire fraud, KHON reported.

English pleaded guilty to Honest Services Wire Fraud in February, and told the judge that he accepted bribes of cash and other gifts. In exchange, legislation was drafted on cesspool and wastewater policy to help a businessman, referred to in court documents as Person A, who sources have identified as Milton Choy.

Court records say that included Choy handing English $5,000 while in a car. FBI agents then stopped them and records say English tried to hide the money under the floor mat.

Lawmakers are also supposed to report any gifts valued at more than $200. When asked why he didn’t report the gifts from Person A, English said, “This didn’t come in to my office, so it wasn’t on the list.”

The former Senate Majority Leader had nothing to say when asked to comment. Inside the courtroom, English expressed remorse in front of the judge.

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“I ask myself continually why I did what I did. With deep remorse I have to look at this,” he said.

“The court, I think, gave the best sentence the court could under the circumstances and recognizing the cooperation. But yeah, I think it sends a pretty effective message,” assistant U.S. attorney Kenneth Sorenson said.

“As the investigation progressed it became astoundingly clear that no matter the legislative ask, the answer from English would almost certainly be ‘yes.’ English’s behavior signaled that it was systemically normal for him to accept and indeed expect, financial benefits in return for legislative favors,” he said.

Judge Susan Oki Mollway said that the former lawmaker’s actions were a “Terrifying prospect that this was so normal, so natural. This was a matter of greed.”

“It was incredibly easy. He was not reticent about accepting bribes, taking money, never reluctant. Many times it was his idea. This was not an individual that was shy about taking money and performing favors for that money,” the judge said.

Executive Director of Common Cause Hawaii, Sandy Ma, said the sentence is appropriate.

“To show that corruption and bribery in our political process will not be tolerated. What is so disturbing is that we had to get to this place,” she said.

“So that we know when bills move why they move, when bills fail why they fail, so things like this cannot happen again,” she said.

“The House of Representatives does not condone the actions taken by the former legislators. I hope this serves as a message to everyone in government that there can be no tolerance for unethical conduct,” House Speaker Scott Saiki said.

Last month, former Illinois Democrat state Rep. Luis Arroyo, who pleaded guilty last year, was sentenced to 5 years in prison for a bribery scheme in which he offered a member of the Illinois Senate monthly payments to support a bill that sought to legalize sweepstakes machines.

​​U.S. District Judge Steven Seeger issued the sentence in the Dirksen Federal Building and did not mince his words.

“You took bribes, you corrupted yourself, you corrupted the political process,” the judge said. “You tried to corrupt the law itself. You tried to change Illinois for a corrupt reason. … What you did was a frontal assault on the very idea of representative government. The public did not get what they deserve.”

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Judge Seeger ripped Arroyo during the hearing, calling the Democrat lawmaker a “dirty politician who was on the take” and a “corruption super-spreader,” who through his actions “injected” corruption into both the Illinois House and Senate.

“Arroyo, 67, of Chicago, was first indicted on one charge of bribery in October 2019 and resigned from the Illinois House one month later. He pleaded guilty last November to one count of wire fraud,” local news outlet WTTW reported.

“At the time of his indictment, Arroyo was registered as a Chicago lobbyist focused on sweepstakes legislation, according to records filed with the Chicago Board of Ethics. Prosecutors allege he was paid tens of thousands of dollars by James Weiss — the owner of sweepstakes firm Collage LLC and husband to former state Rep. Maria “Toni” Berrios — to push legislation that would have legalized gambling machines,” the outlet reported.

During the hearing, Arroyo asked for the judge to consider the entirety of his life’s work before issuing a sentence, which the judge was unmoved by.

“I cannot begin to put into words how awful I feel. What I did, awful,” Arroyo told the court. “I understand there has to be consequences for the choice I made. I accept that. I’ll always accept responsibility completely today.”

Arroyo’s defense team argued he was not the “recipient of a bribe,” but rather a “conduit for the bribe,” suggesting Arroyo was simply taking monthly payments from Weiss and giving it to an Illinois politician referred to in court documents as “State Senator A.”

“Without question, Mr. Arroyo did accept money from co-defendant James T. Weiss to provide to State Senator A as part of the bribery scheme,” Arroyo’s attorney Michael Gillespie wrote. “He does not deny his role and participation in the instant offense and accepts full responsibility for his actions.”

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