LIHUE — The Kauai County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is asking for court approval to seize roughly $140,000 in cash that police allegedly confiscated during a drug raid in Koloa two years ago.
According to documents filed by prosecutors earlier this year in Fifth Circuit Court, the money was primarily made up of proceeds Corinne Arakawa got from selling methamphetamine out of her home on Paanau Road in Koloa.
Civil forfeiture is popular way for states and localities to raise revenue by taking and keeping cash, cars, houses and other private property used to commit crimes, but a growing number of policy makers, activists and legislators from across the political spectrum are denouncing the practice as an unconstitutional violation of due process.
“Civil asset forfeiture frequently leaves innocent citizens deprived of personal property without having ever been charged or convicted of any crime,” Hawaii State Legislators wrote in a 2019 House Bill. “This amounts to government-sponsored theft.”
Governor David Ige recently announced that he intends to veto the bill by the end of the month, meaning Hawaii’s civil forfeiture laws will continue to be what the nonprofit advocacy group, Institute for Justice, described in a 2015 study as “among the worst in the nation.”
In a petition asking the court for permission to seize the cash, Kauai County prosecutors described the drug bust and ensuing investigation like this.
In July 2017, an officer with the Kauai Police Department’s Vice Section got a tip from a “cooperative source” that Arakawa was distributing methamphetamine from her home on Paanau Road in Koloa. The officer then used the source to buy some meth, got a search warrant for the residence and about a week later, a group of vice officers raided the home.
Police arrested Arakawa when she answered the door on the morning of July 31. Six months later, she was arraigned on federal charges in U.S. District Court on five counts related to methamphetamine distribution. She pleaded guilty in June 2018 and was sentenced to nine years in prison last month.
Two men — Alika Soares and Jimmy Roberts — were also in Arakawa’s house at the time, according to court documents, which say both men were arrested and charged with promoting a dangerous drug.
Soares is facing that specific charge in two of the numerous cases filed against him in the last two years, but neither are connected in any way to an incident in July 2017. The names of both men are absent from the KPD arrest logs between the beginning of July and the end of August 2017, and no case has been filed in Fifth Circuit Court against anyone named Jimmy Roberts in over a decade.
In fact, there appear to be a number of discrepancies in the prosecution’s version of events. At a hearing in court last week, Fifth Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe pointed out several potential problems with the case, forcing Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tracy Murakami to ask for more time to resolve the issues.
According to the minutes of the June 25 hearing, Watanabe expressed, “concern that Ms. Arakawa was not served via certified mail,” as required by state law and raised questions about how prosecutors were handling the case.
“Further,” Watanabe said, “there are discrepancies in the amounts the state allegedly seized.”
A petition for forfeiture filed in court on Jan. 10 of this year lists three different numbers in reference to the cash seized from Arakawa’s home. On page one, prosecutors ask the court to order the forfeiture of $140,243. Near the middle of the document, that number drops to $140,073, and the next page says the search turned up “$139,775 in U.S. currency.”
The prosecution’s timeline is also confusing. Page two of the petition for forfeiture says Arakawa, Roberts and Soares were all provided written notices of the state’s intent to confiscate the cash “within twenty days after seizure for forfeiture in conformity with” Hawaii statutes. But the petition says the three notifications were sent during a two-week period in late-November and early-December 2018, well over a year after police allegedly searched the house.
What’s more, the three written notices with the dates referenced in the petition are nowhere to be found in public court records. The only notification in the case file is dated Jan. 10, 2019, and that document claims the money was seized on November 19, 2018, which, if true, would mean prosecutors sent the letters over three weeks after required to do so by law.
And if the prosecutors’ dates are correct, it would mean the KPD waited nearly 16 months after executing the search warrant to seize the money.
When asked to comment on the matter and explain some of Watanabe’s concerns, Kauai County Prosecutor Justin Kollar sent an email Monday afternoon, saying only, “The judge requested more information about the case. We are in the process of compiling that information.”
He did not respond to follow-up questions sent a short time later, asking about discrepancies in the dollar amount and the seemingly counterintuitive dates provided by his office.
A 2018 state auditor’s report on the Department of the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Program found that nearly a fifth of all civil forfeiture petitions on Kauai were dismissed, a rate higher than any other county except Hawaii.
The dismissal rate is markedly high across the state, according to the audit, because “prosecutors are unclear” on the requirements for administrative forfeiture. Auditors found the petitions often fail due to a lack of probable cause, no firmly established connection between the seized property and the alleged offense, insufficient notice to property owners and technical errors in court documents.