Disaster and corruption in the Valley Isle of Maui

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” -Rahm Emanuel

Rather than whining to Mother Nature, we need to hold people accountable for the destructiveness of the August 2023 Lahaina disaster. 

Pointing at abstractions like “climate change” deflects focus away from elected officials and apparatchiks responsible for the safety of their citizens and the maintenance of state property.

Two years ago, Maui County issued a report on wildfire prevention, stating that “most … wildfires are caused by human actions, 75% of which are accidental and therefore preventable.” One of the “fire threats” listed in the report included “poorly maintained and overgrown properties”—one of the largest land owners in Hawaii is the state itself, which owns expanses of “poorly maintained and overgrown properties” north and east of Lahaina.

The Aloha State has had more than its fair share of corruption and maleficence, but the dirty laundry does not appear to have grabbed as much national attention as the Lahaina disaster.

As a part of the Trump administration’s larger program (CARES Act) to protect the U.S. economy during the coronavirus panic, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provided $953 billion in low-interest, forgivable loans to protect employees and small businesses. Like bees to honey, the PPP lured criminals inside and outside the U.S.

In Hawaii, one criminal was Honolulu resident Martin Kao, former president and CEO of Martin Defense Group. In 2022, Kao plead guilty to “illegal campaign contribution and CARES Act fraud.” United States prosecutors accused Kao of stealing more than $12 million from the PPP and sending illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Senator Susan Collins of Maine to steer federal contracts to his company. Apparently, unnamed members of Congress and “authorities” in Hawaii worked with Kao in grabbing a slice of free taxpayer money.

Back on Maui, former state senate majority leader Jamie Kalani English was sentenced in 2022 to 40 months in federal prison for wire fraud. Federal prosecutors noted English’s propensity to trade bribes in exchange for influencing legislation. The FBI arrested English in January 2021 but it was not until four months later that he announced his retirement from the Senate. English represented various regions of Maui, which at one point included Lahaina (District 6). 

Caught in the same dragnet were former Maui Department of Environmental Management official Wilfred Tamayo Savella and Ty J.K. Cullen, state representative and Vice Chair of the House Committee on Finance. Savella and Cullen were sentenced in April 2023 for accepting bribes and wire fraud, respectively. In February 2023, former Maui Environmental Management Director Stewart Stant was sentenced for wire fraud and accepting bribes.

The Department of Justice stated that it is far from finished with Hawaii. One wonders why the Feds are doing the heavy lifting and where the state Office of the Prosecuting Attorney is in all this.

Individuals, including those with privilege, should also shoulder the burden if found responsible for the Lahaina disaster.

Another of Hawaii’s biggest land owners is Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate, one of the largest charitable trusts in the U.S. The Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate, no stranger to corruption, was established in accordance with Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop's wish to “support and educate” orphans and the indigent, “giving preference to Hawaiians of pure or part aboriginal blood.” It appears that the wildfire near Lahaina started in Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate land.

Maui is noted for winter whale watching and Haleakala rather than public and private corruption.

Unfortunately, if there is money to be made, graft lies just below the surface. A wildfire tends to leave a bare, ashen landscape visible to all. Perhaps this disaster will leave bare the sheer incompetence of some elected Maui officials and apparatchiks. Survivors of the Lahaina disaster will need strength and support, but one hopes that they will not have to bear the greed of their brethren as well.  

Image: NordNordWest via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

If you experience technical problems, please write to helpdesk@americanthinker.com