HONOLULU — A federal grand jury handed down a 70-count indictment Thursday against a Honolulu union board member and two of his family members on charges related to conspiracy, fraud, money laundering and embezzlement.
Brian Ahakuelo, 58, former business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 1260, based in Honolulu, his wife, Marilyn Ahakuelo, 55, and sister-in-law, Jennifer Estencion, 52, are accused of conspiring to divert union funds and property for their own personal uses from June 2011 to May 2016, according to the indictment.
A U.S. Department of Justice press release said Ahakuelo hired family members at inflated salaries, some of whom did little or no actual work for the union, and authorized the use of union funds for personal travel, a vehicle and dining expenditures.
“When his activities largely depleted the union’s coffers,” the DOJ press release said, Ahakuelo enlisted the help of his wife, sister-in-law and other union employees to rig a vote to increase membership dues, causing union members to pay an additional $3.7 million over the course of about 18 months.
“Our office will aggressively investigate and prosecute corruption in unions — and any other governmental or non-governmental entities — that abuse the trust vested in them by the hard-working folks in our communities,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii Kenji Price said in the news release Friday.
“If your job is to protect the hard-working men and women in our communities, then do that,” he continued. “If you use your position to corruptly line your own pockets or serve other corrupt interests, we will use all of our resources to hold you accountable.”
The IBEW represents about 750,000 active members and retirees who work in a variety of fields, including utilities, construction, telecommunications and broadcasting, according to the union’s website. Kauai is represented by IBEW Local Union 1186, with an office in Lihue, and appears not to be connected to or affected by the allegations against Ahakuelo.
Ahakuelo and his family members could spend decades in prison if convicted. All three defendants are charged with conspiracy to defraud the federal government — a crime punishable by up to five years in jail — and 42 counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum 20-year prison term.
Marilyn Ahakuelo is also named on three counts of embezzlement, one of which is for using union funds to buy a $1,500 round-trip plane ticket to Las Vegas in 2014, a crime she allegedly committed independently of her husband, who is included on all 69 remaining charges, according to court documents.
The 24-page indictment spelling out the alleged five-year scheme is included in the online version of this article on The Garden Island’s website.
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.