Former union boss Brian Ahakuelo convicted of wire fraud, embezzlement
Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Nov. 22—Ahakuelo was elected business manager and financial secretary of Local 1260 in June 2011, reelected in 2014, and served until May 2016 when IBEW placed Local 1260 in an emergency trusteeship.
The former business manager of a Hawaii labor union accused by federal prosecutors of rigging a vote to raise dues and using members' money to fund his family's opulent lifestyle—including a multimonth excursion to Las Vegas—was found guilty on all counts Monday.
A federal jury found Brian Ahakuelo, 61, former elected business manager and financial secretary of the Inter national Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 1260, and his wife, Marilyn Ahakuelo, 59, guilty of one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of five years, and 42 counts of wire fraud, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The couple was also convicted of multiple counts of embezzlement of labor union assets, six counts for Brian Ahakuelo and three counts for Marilyn Ahakuelo. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
Brian Ahakuelo was also convicted of 19 counts of money laundering, with each count carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. Marilyn Ahakuelo's sister, Jennifer Estencion, was found not guilty of conspiracy and 42 counts of wire fraud.
"The extensive testimony and voluminous documentary evidence produced during this trial supports the just and important verdict of guilt returned by the jury as to Brian and Marilyn Ahakuelo, " said U.S. Attorney Clare E. Connors in a news release. "The Department of Justice is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to ensure that our labor leaders carry out their fiduciary duty to members, and that when the evidence reveals otherwise, they face criminal consequences in a court of law."
Brian Ahakuelo was elected business manager and financial secretary of Local 1260 in June 2011, reelected in 2014, and served until May 2016 when IBEW placed Local 1260 in an emergency trusteeship.
His attorney, Louis M. Ching, said they were disappointed with the outcome. Ahakuelo was taken into custody following the verdict, and Marilyn Ahakuelo remains free pending their sentencing scheduled for March.
Marilyn Ahakuelo's attorney, Rebecca S. Lester, did not immediately reply to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser request for comment.
During his time in office, Brian Ahakuelo oversaw the day-to-day operations of the union, had the authority to hire and manage staff and maintained "autonomy and complete control over the finances, " according to the Aug. 22, 2019, federal indictment.
He was accused of filling vacancies on the union's executive board with people who had no experience and who were loyal to him, including family members. According to court documents, he paid his family excessive wages in violation of union bylaws and used members' money to pay for his family's personal expenses, including a $597 restaurant tab.
Brian and Marilyn Ahakuelo spent nearly $10, 000 in airfare on trips that had nothing to do with union business to Virginia and Las Vegas, where the couple would stay for weeks or months, according to the indictment. Brian Ahakuelo paid his son-in-law $29, 726, "who did little to no union work in exchange for such payments, " and used $24, 594 in union dues to pay off the loan on his wife's Toyota Tacoma pickup truck Ahakuelo earned a salary of $160, 285 in 2012, according to records filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. By 2015 his salary had increased to $201, 492.
Marilyn Ahakuelo, as director of community services, earned $105, 119 in 2015. Estencion took home $101, 250 as a senior executive assistant.
Local Union 1260 represents more than 3, 500 electrical workers in Hawaii and Guam.
Authorities say after depleting Local 1260's surplus of over $700, 000 in 2010 to a net deficit of over $700, 000 in 2014, Brian Ahakuelo proposed a huge hike in union fees to 3 % from 1.5 % of wages in April 2015 ; 3.5 % in April 2017 ; and 4 % in April 2019.
In the indictment, the Ahakuelos and Estencion were accused of falsifying election results in two of the nine bargaining units, and Marilyn Ahakuelo was accused of falsifying the minutes for the Unit 4 membership meeting to say that the January 2015 votes were 98 in favor and 11 against the dues hike, according to federal court records.
Brian Ahakuelo and Estencion were accused of rigging the Unit 9 election in Guam later that month, with Estencion accused of submitting fake ballots that indicated the resolution passed by a vote of 293-32. Four other IBEW staffers were indicted for helping to fix the outcome of the rate hike vote.
The conviction is the result of an investigation conducted by the Internal Revenue Service-CI, Department of Labor Office of Labor Management Standards, and state Attorney General's Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael F. Albanese and W. KeAupuni Akina prosecuted the case.
(c)2022 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Visit The Honolulu Star-Advertiser at www.staradvertiser.com