P.O.H.A.K.U.: ROCKIN' IN THE SHAY WORLD;
WHAT ARE THE QUESTIONS THE COUNCIL WANTS ANSWERED ON PROSECUTOR'S SIGNATURE DIVERSION PROGRAM?
A PNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORT
(PNN) -- Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho's much ballyhooed P.O.H.A.K.U. program to "divert" minor offenders from jail has blown-up recently as two councilmembers have tried to ask questions about the program while the rest have blocked those queries, even refusing to hold closed door discussions of the program.
A PNN investigation has uncovered what some of those questions may be and found both process and monetary improprieties associated with the program as well as false claims on the part of Iseri and conflicts of interest within the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney (OPA).
For those who have not followed the council machinations lately, for weeks now Iseri, her First Deputy Jake Delaplane and her chief ally on the council Mel Rapozo have thwarted Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura and Tim Bynum from even discussing the P.O.H.A.K.U. program, with the latest dust-up occurring at Friday's budget session for the OPA.
The council has twice defeated requests for an executive session with County Attorney Al Castillo, and when Council Chair Jay Furfaro was at a doctor's appointment Friday morning, Rapozo acted as chair and banned all discussion of P.O.H.A.K.U.
That enraged Bynum and Yukimura with Yukimura forced to withhold a power point presentation she had prepared to expose some of the alleged wrongdoing in the P.O.H.A.K.U. program.
But Rapozo banned discussion despite its direct relevance to the the agenda item: the OPA's budget, because, he claimed, County Attorney Al Castillo had banned the discussion- something Castillo later denied.
For those who want a blow-by-blow of the multi-level, multi-player chess game of the past month or so, including Friday's budget session, we recommend reading Joan Conrow's Kaua`i Eclectic coverage here, here and here
The overriding question no one has answered is why? What is Iseri so apparently trying to hide? No one can honestly watch the meetings without asking themselves that question. Why are she and Delaplane "running out the clock" with repetitive power point presentations and long winded answers to questions no one asked every time they are subjected to council questioning?
So what are Yukimura and Bynum trying to question her about?
The key to answering that is apparently a company that, despite Iseri's claim that the program is fully of her design and implementation, is apparently the entity that is responsible for the nuts and bolts of the P.O.H.A.K.U. program... a company called Strategic Justice Partners (SJP) LLC of Nevada.
Politically, P.O.H.A.K.U., which has been implemented for a few years now, has been a key to Iseri's campaign for re-election and she has promoted it recently in two articles in the local newspaper touting community meetings and the program's alleged successes. Iseri's official P.O.H.A.K.U. website calls it "a new innovative diversion program that was designed by the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney (OPA) as an alternative to the traditional court process."
But although SJP has never publicly been mentioned by Iseri or her department's personnel, a look at the bottom of the P.O.H.A.K.U. web site says "Content copyright 2011-2012. Strategic Justice Partners. All rights reserved."
And a visit to the SJP web site reveals where the program really came from. The very first thing you see there on the right side is the statement that:
Strategic Justice Partners is a leader in Alternative Sentencing, Diversion and Early Release Programs.
"Our Diversion programs have a 94% completion rate with over 96% of participants rating their experience as "good" or "outstanding".
And under the "What We Do" button it describes a service that sound exactly like the P.O.H.A.K.U. program, saying they provide:
Diversion Programs result in lower recidivism than “Stand in line-Pay a fine” justice while dramatically reducing the burden and costs on Prosecutors and Courts. http://www.strategicjusticepartners.com/What_We_Do.html
And the main program exemplary of their work? At the top of the left had side of the home page of the site is a color photo of a smiling, lei-bedecked Iseri alongside a photo of a Kaua`i-style poi pounder (the symbol of P.O.H.A.K.U.) under the title "Kaua'i County Hawai`i; P.O.H.A.K.U. Program." and a blurb that says "We are pleased to introduce P.O.H.A.K.U., an innovative alternative to the traditional court Process."
It doesn't really say who "we" is but the context demands one interpret it as being SJP especially because it's their web site.
Iseri has recently been holding a series of meetings- meetings dutifully reported upon by the local newspaper- apparently as a part of, or at least in conjunction with, her campaign for re-election in the fall. One example of how she has used P.O.H.A.K.U. for political haymaking at every turn is the wording of a communication to the county council for a special council meeting on April 11.
At the time Iseri was asking the "Council approval to apply for and receive Technical Assistance from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Vera Institute of Justice's national Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank for Criminal Justice," although it has since been withdrawn at Iseri's request, apparently because that would have opened the door to questioning about P.O.H.A.K.U.
What would make us say that might be the reason? Well, Iseri had already applied for the "technical assistance" before the item was to have been approved by the council. Not only that but she withdrew the request after all the other delay requests on her part had failed... and she did so in a late night email to the chair, sent the night before the meeting where P.O.H.A.K.U. was to have been discussed.
But it's the rest of the communication that had many laughing at the unique wording that was anything but the usual kind of straightforward "communications for approval." It went on to say that the assistance "will allow the OPA to find innovative programs and develop procedures to ensure that the community is served in the most cost efficient manner and in the best way possible."
Some may say "so what?- it's politics... nothing wrong with that... they all do it." But we bring this up not just to point to the use of the program as a political tool for Iseri but to point out what exactly amounts to wrongdoing here.
It's not clear what precisely SJP's full role is. But what is true is that the association between the OPA and SJP has never come before the council nor has there even been any type of official "procurement process" for SJP's services, as provided by law.
Any "grant" to any department or for that matter any donation of anything, including information or assistance must, by law, come before the county council for approval. It's usually in an official communication for approval to "apply for, accept and indemnify" as the agenda item would normally read. But the words "Strategic Justice Partners" have never been mentioned in even verbal form to the council much less written.
That would be for a grant or donation type of thing. What if the OPA is involved financially with SJP? The fact is that there has never been any official procurement of services from SJP. Nor of course has there ever been a type of contract or "memorandum of agreement" (MOA) which would also have to have been approved by the council.
Finally there have never been any HRS Chapter 91 Administrative Rules promulgated, which according to state law are required to establish procedures for how, say, the OPA would engage with SJP in the P.O.H.A.K.U. program.
But all that is just procedural. Here's what happens if you, as they say, "follow the money."
Because SJP is a Nevada corporation if it wants to do business in Hawai`i it must file with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) and have an "agent" in Hawai`i.
The DCCA filing shows SJP to be a for-profit corporation and the agent in Hawai`i is none other than Iseri's second-in-command, Delaplane.
The filing is simply the initial corporate document and apparently no 2012 report has been submitted. There is nothing to indicate whether Delaplane is being paid for being the sole representative of SJP in Hawai`i. But the fact that he is both their agent and part of the team that is contracting with SJP- the OPA- makes for a blatant conflict of interest.
So who gets what money and where does it come from?
The upcoming OPA's budget for 2013 shows a request for around $20,000 for four different diversion programs although there is no breakdown of how much of that would go to P.O.H.A.K.U. That is one reason why Yukimura and Bynum were asking questions- or want to ask them- in the first place; to find out how much is for each program and in fact what the county funding mechanism(s) for P.O.H.A.K.U. actually are/is. It also "opens the door" so to speak, to discuss the program.
But PNN did learn of one funding source that isn't listed anywhere and certainly has not been communicated to the council.
At Iseri's P.O.H.A.K.U. website those in the program can go to the "Register for Class" page. Under "P.O.H.A.K.U. Class Registration" it says:
You may schedule your P.O.H.A.K.U. class date below.
You must pay your program fees prior to registering.
You may REGISTER with a credit or debit card below or visit any Bank of Hawaii Branch with the deposit slip you were given (emphasis added).
And, PNN has learned, that the "deposit slip" is filled out to deposit $200 to an account bearing the name of, not the County of Kaua`i as one would expect for a program designed and run by Iseri but rather, Strategic Justice Partners.
According to testimony by Delaplane on Friday before the council 49 people have completed the program and so what is clear is that at least that many have paid SJP $200 each for a total of almost $10,000.
What is not clear however is whether the money is refunded if the person doesn't complete the diversion program. The question of how many people failed has, of course, not been discussed because nothing about POHAKU has been able to be discussed, even though both Delaplane and Iseri were permitted to tout it Friday during their "power point" presentation to the council on the budget.
Even- or maybe especially- if the OPA never sees or touches a nickel, improprieties abound with this setup. As we said, P.O.H.A.K.U. itself has never even been approved by the council. Plus, there has never been a procurement of services for SJP nor has there been any MOA, both of which would have to come before the council for approval.
Oh- and one more thing.
The only person listed as a "member" of SJP is one Kirk Barrus. That means he is the sole owner of SJP. Yet a search of SJP's web site does not readily yield Barrus' name- or any other associated with the company.
So who is Barrus? What is his background?
According to David Lazarus' "Consumer Confidential" in the February 20, 2008, Los Angeles Times, Kirk Barrus was the Senior Vice President and spokesperson for a company called American Corrective Counseling Services (ACCS).
In an article in which Lazarus discusses Bush-era court rulings providing full immunity to companies doing business with the government he cites the example of "AT&T and Verizon immunity for their roles in any past and future eavesdropping on the American people."
But ACCS was not granted immunity in the case at hand and Lazarus writes that:
when it comes to public-private canoodling, the most egregious case I've seen recently involved a San Clemente company, American Corrective Counseling Services, that worked with public prosecutors to go after people who bounced checks.
He describes the scam this way:
In contacting consumers, ACCS represented itself as actually being the district attorney's office, even though the cases involved may not have been vetted in advance by an actual prosecutor.
In return for its efforts, ACCS typically would be entitled to a $100 fee and as much as 60% of any fines paid...
Lois Artz, a 72-year-old resident of the Northern California city of Petaluma, received what looked like a very serious letter from the Sonoma County district attorney's office in November 2005.
"The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office has received a CRIME REPORT alleging you have violated Penal Code 476(a) of the California State Statute: Issuing a Worthless Check," the letter warned.
"A conviction under this statute is punishable by up to one (1) year in county jail, or in a state prison, and up to $1,000 in fines," it said.
The letter advised Artz, a former Bank of America branch manager, to enroll in a "bad check restitution program" and to pay $196.62 in fines.
"When I saw that letter, I almost fainted," she told me. "I was beside myself."
Her crime, Artz said, was writing a check for a $26.62 carton of smokes and not having sufficient funds in her bank account to cover it. Artz said she'd been distracted caring for her daughter, who has breast cancer, but she knows that's no excuse.
What troubled her was that her case seemingly was elevated with alarming speed to the level of criminal prosecution without anyone trying to work things out with her.
"I was humiliated and terrified," Artz said. "I felt like any time I turned around, there would be somebody there telling me to come with them."
According to court documents, ACCS went after more than 100,000 Californians in 2001, the latest year for which data are available. And most if not all those people believed they'd been contacted by a government agency, not a private company.
In speaking for ACCS, Barrus
denied that the company acts independently when it chases down suspected check scofflaws.
"We operate under the total control of the district attorney," he said. "We're basically a secretarial service, and therefore should carry the district attorney's immunity.
"They're not letters from a private company," Barrus insisted. "They're letters from a district attorney."
There is another article in The Press Democrat describing the situation in more detail
The fact that the council has questions for Iseri about P.O.H.A.K.U. shouldn't surprise anybody.
We'd certainly like to know a few things.
Did SJP receive other funds such as ACCS did in collecting "as much as 60% of any fines paid" in the California case? Did the OPA either receive or expend any funding directly or indirectly to or from SJP? What exactly is Delaplane's role? What does he do as "agent?" Is he a paid agent? If so, how much? If so, what if anything is Iseri's cut? Doesn't Delaplane or Iseri see an inherent conflict in a operation where someone- so far apparently SJP- is receiving at least $10,000? Why is Iseri so transparently covering up her and the OPA's association with SJP? Is it simply to take credit for a program she didn't really design and implement or is there more?.. perhaps a financial association?
We haven't been able to uncover all the facts or follow all the money. But we sure hope that Rapozo- along with Councilmembers Kipukai Kuali`i, Dickie Chang, and Chair Jay Furfaro- stop blocking at least an executive session but preferably have a full public airing of the issues involved.
Oh by the way- Kuali`i refused to recuse himself from discussions of the OPA's budget despite the fact that the Erin Wilson Victim Witness position cut by Iseri- which is the subject of a complaint by Wilson as we discussed in January - was contracted out to the YWCA where Kuali`i works.
The next thing scheduled for the matter is an executive session set to take place April 30.