LIHUE — The Kauai district manager for the Department of Natural Resources’ boating division resigned last week after an investigation revealed he falsified documents in order to award dozens of government contracts to businesses run by his friend, according to documents released Tuesday by the Hawaii State Ethics Commission.
Kauai Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation District Manager Joseph Borden also admitted to accepting gifts from people who he was in charge of issuing permits and contracts to, using government funds to pay for first-class airline tickets, ordering his subordinates to falsify documents and making use of various government resources to benefit himself personally, according to a settlement reached with the commission on Dec. 14.
Two other Kauai DOBOR employees were also issued fines by the Ethics Commission on the same day. Building Maintenance Worker Manuel Andrade was ordered to pay $2,000 for using DLNR equipment for personal gain and emptying a 55-gallon drum of diesel fuel on private land when it should have been disposed of as hazardous waste. Harbor Agent Kathy Rosare was fined $1,500 for spending time at work and using her state email to conduct personal business.
Borden reached a settlement with the Ethics Commission on Dec. 14, which required him to resign his position at the end of the week and pay a $15,000 fine.
The commission found that Borden authorized nearly $1 million in state funds over a four-year period to be paid to two companies — South Shore Lawn Services and Hoff Enterprises, Inc. — owned and operated by Aaron Hoff, a local businessman who Borden described as a friend.
Roughly half of those contracts were offered exclusively to Hoff, although state laws require government contracts to undergo a public competitive bidding process.
The commission found that, “for more than 50 of these jobs, there is no evidence in the procurement files that he sought any other bids for the work.” In 42 of those jobs, Borden falsified paperwork to make it look like other vendors had also submitted bids for the job, “when in fact no such bid ever existed.”
Hoff may have also been paid for work at vastly inflated rates. The investigation found he was paid about $36,000 and then $45,000 in consecutive years by the DLNR to clean two portable toilets three times per week. After the amount was questioned by a superior, Borden was able to find a different company to do the work for less than a third of the price.
In some instances, it is unclear whether Hoff did anything at all after securing the contract. The commission’s report said that “procurement documents raise questions as to whether work was actually performed on every job.”
Hoff declined to comment on the particulars but said Wednesday that he didn’t know Borden was doing anything wrong.
“They’d call me, I’d give them a bid and go to work,” he said. “I have no idea how the process works.”
In addition to ethics code and fair treatment law violations, Borden instructed his subordinates on multiple occasions to falsely certify DLNR equipment disposal records to make it appear as though DLNR equipment had been disposed of.
The commission alleges the equipment was then given to DOBOR employees or their family members. Borden does not dispute that the supposedly-discarded equipment may have been kept by staff members, but maintains he did not authorize them to do so.
Borden borrowed expensive landscaping equipment from Hoff and another friend who was also recently awarded a DOBOR contract. The Ethics Commission found those loans to be a violation of laws prohibiting state employees from accepting certain gifts.
The commission also noted that some of the equipment appeared to be identical to items Borden falsified documents in order to “dispose of.” Borden disputes this claim also, and the matter was not investigated further.
In Borden’s settlement, the commission stated, “If this matter were to proceed to a contested case hearing, Respondent would likely face more than 165 counts of violating the Ethics Code, each of which could be punishable by an administrative fine of $1,000,” an outcome Borden avoided by resigning and agreeing to pay the $15,000 fine.
“The Commission is troubled that internal control mechanisms did not uncover any potential problems regarding the purchase of nearly $1,000,000 in goods and services – on more than 100 separate occasions – from a private contractor,” Borden’s resolution with the commission says. “Respondent Borden’s immediate superiors within DLNR should have reviewed these expenditures with greater care and should have required additional verification as to the need for (and prices of) these services.”
Board of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case said in a statement Tuesday the DLNR “will be reviewing the Ethics Commission findings carefully and examining our internal procedures, controls and training programs for improvements to ensure strict compliance by all staff with ethics and procurement laws.”
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.