Friday, November 14, 2008


DIGGING UP THE DIRT: The grand jury looking into criminal charges against Jimmy Pflueger in the Ka Loko dam break tragedy seems as leaky as the dam itself was, as press reports of immunity for former Kaua`i Mayor Marianne Kusaka and details of evidence presented pepper press reports.

One report in particular today from Malia Zimmerman of Hawaii Reporter lays out a lot of history and background of the case revealing more details from an interview with Pflueger about his allegation of a $9,000 bribe paid to Kusaka to protect him- an interview that Zimmerman revealed for the first time was “recorded”.

But though the press reports and apparent focus of the investigation has been on Pflueger’s contention that the state bears some responsibility for not stopping him from causing the circumstances that led to the dam break, there is more news on the culpability of Kaua`i County.

She writes

Where Was County Enforcement?

(T)he county of Kauai was notified by at least two concerned citizens of Pflueger’s unpermitted grading around the dam. A County’s Department of Public Works inspector was dispatched to investigate the Ka Loko property on Nov. 7, 1997.

The inspector documented illegal grading with heavy equipment on the hilltop adjacent to Ka Loko Reservoir, and 11 days later, sent a “Notice of Grading Violation” by a certified letter to Pflueger saying inspectors “observed and verified the grading on the subject property to be in violation” of the County’s ordinances. Pflueger was ordered to “stop work immediately with the exception of work to correct any hazards to public safety and health.”

But Pflueger did not stop work. Instead, John Buist, Jr., a civil engineer for the county, says on Nov. 26, 1997, he was “summoned by Mayor (Maryanne) Kusaka” to her office for a meeting to discuss the grading violation for Mr. Pflueger. Buist’s memo says: “Buist informed the Mayor that the investigation was prompted by an anonymous phone call, but that the inspector saw and took a picture of the equipment being used for the work and the cut mountain top.”

Buist continues: “I was questioned (by the mayor) as to why we responded to an anonymous phone call and responded that it was our procedure to respond with an investigation. She questioned as to the other wasted manhours to follow up on anonymous tips and that no other County Agency responded to anonymous tips. Mayor Kusaka asked whether Mr. Pflueger had applied for a grading permit, and was told that a permit application had been filed, but without any grubbing plans. The Mayor and the Assistant Administrator, Wallace Rezentes, Sr., questioned why Mr. Pflueger should be required to obtain a permit for work in such a remote area. Mr. Buist explained that the ordinance applied no matter how remote the site may be, and noted that this was not the first violation for which Mr. Pflueger had been cited. ... In closing, Mr. Portugal instructed me that I was to stop all actions involving Mr. Pflueger and all further communications from or to Mr. Pflueger are to go directly to Mr. Portugal.”

Buist notes Caesar Portugal was in charge of handling Pflueger’s case for the county, and also that Yolanda Portugal-Cabral was under contract with Pflueger in November 1997 to help him submit the grubbing plans to the county. What is not disclosed in this correspondence - because the county officials already knew - Yolanda Portugal-Cabral ran the family engineering business for her father Caesar Portugal and ultimately it would be up to him to approve Pflueger’s plans that his daughter submitted.

Many pieces of evidence that so far have seemingly escaped scrutiny sit in the minutes of a series of Kaua`i County Council meetings from 2000-2002 during which Portugal and former acting head of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and now Planning Director Ian Costa answered questions from the council.

During many months of testimony- almost every week for more than a year- the two were grilled over another Pflueger-caused disaster in Pila`a, which PNN detailed at the time.

But included at some hearings was the issue of the illegal grubbing and grading Pflueger had done just above the Ka Loko dam and the seeming inability of the DPW engineers and inspectors to enter the Ka Loko property to search for violations.

During those sessions various DPW personnel including Portugal, Costa and engineer Wally Kudo were asked about Kusaka’s involvement and did indeed reveal extensively the pressure they received from her regarding Pflueger and developer Tom McCloskey who was also accused of illegal grubbing and grading in Moloa`a and Kealia.

Any examination of the verbatim minutes or video of council meetings and the notes of council committee meetings would provide a gold mine for the questioning of Kusaka and would indicate exactly who else needs to be questioned under oath by the grand jury to get to the truth. But it is doubtful that the minutes have been reviewed.

The council was on the verge of launching an investigation in late 2002 before many of them- including now Senator Gary Hooser, who initiated and pushed the investigation forward- left the council after the 2002 election.. The investigation would have allowed them to compel witnesses and get sworn testimony.

Council records show just what the criminal case is as PNN reported at the time. but no such investigation took place.

Another passage in Zimmerman’s piece gives a picture of Pflueger’s attitude toward his properties.

She writes

In a July 2006 exclusive interview with Hawaii Reporter on his property at Ka Loko and Pilaa on Kauai, Pflueger talked about his love for grubbing and grading the land so he could make it more “beautiful.”

He says he had a special tractor made, 44 feet wide and 17 feet tall, which can literally bury trees and shrubs and create a smooth and manicured look to the grass. “You know, you see all these weeds, we buried them. Anything you see here you can knock down and bury them,” he said, motioning across his beach side property at Pilaa.

Pflueger also said he didn’t remember ever seeing a spillway at Ka Loko, but admitted he could have covered it himself.

"And that reservoir around it is beautiful because I mowed it right down there to the edge. I did, mowed everything. I mowed everything. And if I filled something up or if somebody filled it up – tell me. Tell me. I mean, tell me," Pflueger said.

(The day after talking with Hawaii Reporter, Pflueger arranged another meeting and asked that this conversation not be disclosed, however, the interview was recorded and on the record.)

One of the lines of questioning of the DPW by the council was as to why they couldn’t just take a helicopter and inspect at the lands from above if they couldn’t get land access as they claimed at the time.

So, during the height of those “Developer Gone Wild” council meetings as they were dubbed, we were invited to tail along with activist extraordinaire Ray Chuan on a helicopter trip over Pflueger’s and McCloskey’s lands.

And what struck us was expressed in a question we asked during the flight- “What are all those ponds?” having never seen anything like it in island watersheds.

After the Ka Loko catastrophe we all to painfully figured it out- they’re reservoirs

It is quite obvious Pflueger didn’t do all the land moving by himself and in fact, as PNN has reported in the past, various “friends of Jimmy” were privy to what was at the heart of all of the damage- Jimmy Pflueger’s love for “water-skiing” on his “lakes”

We chanced upon to one of those friends who has requested anonymity who said that he and another friend of Jimmy were invited to go water skiing with Pflueger.

There, Pflueger regaled them with tales of how much effort he was putting into building up the water levels of the lakes by moving earth around the edges so that the water skiing would be better.

If there was one witness there were surely two and more but that, as yet, doesn’t seem to be a focus of the jury.

The other person there with our source was one of the closest “friends of Jimmy”- none other than the notorious Gary Baldwin the economic development guru of the Kusaka administration that left Kaua`i in disgrace after it was learned that he was a scam artist wanted by the law in connection with some deals in Colorado.

Baldwin was also a close associate of Kusaka’s- one whose Kaua`i Economic Development Board was lavished with money from the county’s largess, as PNN detailed in the 90’s on “The Parxist Conspiracy” TV news magazine.

Whether Baldwin- who we hear is out of jail and living in the northwest- has been subpoenaed in unknown but improbable.

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