LIHU‘E — County Councilmember Arthur Brun and 11 other people were arrested Thursday and charged with operating a huge methamphetamine distribution ring on Kaua‘i, including allegedly procuring an unlicensed firearm for one of the codefendants.
The Kaua‘i Police Department described the action as a “massive islandwide drug sweep” in which Brun was arrested, and brought to light more information about an incident in which he was arrested last November, fled after striking a KPD officer with his car, and flung a bag of methamphetamines from his vehicle as he tried to escape.
While the traffic stop arrest had been previously disclosed, Brun’s action to throw a bag of illegal drugs from his car as he led a police pursuit had not been made public before Thursday’s arrest.
KPD and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Honolulu were scheduled to hold a news conference this morning to provide additional detail on the case, which a county news release described as a “major drug-trafficking organization” headed by Brun, who according to a 29-page federal indictment was known as “Ata” within the drug ring.
The arrest came as a result of a federal indictment filed Feb. 13, charging that Brun ran the drug ring while he was “a sitting member of the Kaua‘i County Council and the vice chair of its Public Safety and Human Services Committee.”
The other defendants are Maluelue “Malu” Umu, Kelvin Kauwila Kai, Steven Keli‘ikuli, Kaniu Huihui, Sheena Millare, Efron Yanos, Kirsten Makanoe Ayau, Orlando “Ole” Manguchei, Robby Silva, Haidee Sueyasu and Phrystal Bacio. Hometowns of the defendants were not included in the indictment, but the charging papers linked them to an organized crime group known as the United Samoan Organization, or “USO Gang.”
Brun remained in KPD custody Thursday evening pending his transfer to U.S. District Court in Honolulu. It came after months of speculation within Kaua‘i government circles that Brun was afflicted by a serious drug-abuse problem.
As news of the arrest circulated in county government on Thursday, both Mayor Derek Kawakami and Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro released statements emphasizing the possible role of drug addiction in Brun’s situation.
However, Kaneshiro emphasized that the Kaua‘i County Charter makes no provision for Brun’s expulsion from the council and that he will — under the law — continue to serve until he resigns. Recall of a councilmember is prohibited under the charter, which restricts recall authority to county officials serving four-year terms, a provision that applies only to mayor and prosecuting attorney.
The indictment describes an organized crime operation that had the flavor of something out of a television police procedural. It charged that Brun, on several occasions, ordered and received large shipments of methamphetamines, including one shipment that was mailed to him from California.
KPD intercepted the shipment, according to the indictment. KPD Chief Todd Raybuck said the case began as an investigation of methamphetamine trafficking but was expanded to include numerous federal agencies after Brun’s involvement and the extent of the operation were discovered.
“The suspects under indictment today were identified as part of a major drug-trafficking organization that has been supplying a significant amount of methamphetamine throughout the community,” Raybuck said. He said KPD had been assisted by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Honolulu.
In a statement released Thursday, Kawakami said, “I am disappointed that an elected councilmember has been arrested under these serious criminal charges. But this highlights the reality that addiction is a disease that knows no bounds and does not discriminate.”
The county also released a statement from Kaneshiro that said, “On a personal level, it has been difficult to watch what has transpired with Councilmember Brun’s personal situation. I hope that Councilmember Brun will do what is right for his family, supporters and the community.”
But Kaneshiro said the County Charter precludes Brun’s removal from the council unless he resigns, although a section of the charter allows “a member of the public to initiate impeachment proceedings.” There are no provisions in the rules of the County Council, Kaneshiro said, that provide for the council to expel Brun for any conduct except “contemptuous behavior or personal vilification” that may occur during an official council meeting.
“The Kauai County Council,” Kaneshiro said, “is well aware of the sensitivity of this issue within the community, and will continue to monitor where any of these rules are enforceable.”
The indictment, which was originally handed up by a federal grand jury in Honolulu on Feb. 13, describes an intricate drug ring in which Brun named Umu as a “shot caller” for the United Samoan Organization and charged that Manguchei “acted to protect Arthur Brun” and the operations of the drug ring.
It charged that Manguchei undertook this role “at the same time he was a fugitive on a federal arrest warrant.” It charged that Brun attempted to obtain an unregistered firearm for Manguchei’s use, “despite that fact that both Brun and Manguchei have previously sustained felony convictions.”
The language referred to a previous case, several years ago, in which Brun was convicted on drug charges. When Brun was first elected to the County Council in 2016, however, he and people close to him said that, though he had a troubled past, he had straightened his life out and become an exemplary community member and held regular employment.
The indictment referred to numerous apparently wiretapped phone calls, including several in which Brun asked associates about the status and cost of drug shipments. In October of last year, for example, the indictment charged, “Brun asked, in substance and on part, “how much you got?” in response to a call from Sueyasu.
In several of the calls, the indictment charged, Brun pressed his associates for details on the quantity of drugs that were on hand or might be shipped. In one of the calls, Brun allegedly told one of the associates that the drugs in one shipment were “killa…the best one so far.” The document said Brun responded that the drugs in question needed to be weighed to confirm their quantity and value.
In another call, the indictment charged that Brun pressed an associate for information on an unregistered 38-caliber handgun that might be available to be sure the gun was “not registered.” In another call, in October, 2019, one of the codefendants asked Brun “if he needed any assistance in collecting drug debts.”
Police also overheard phone conversations in which Brun referred to unusually large numbers of police being observed at Salt Pond, at Port Allen and in Hanapepe. In another conversation, one of the alleged associates observed to another “I work for (Brun) long time. Don’t you even think of touch him. You not going touch him. You going to have to bury me first, brah.”
The indictment charged that the first of two widely reported arrests of Brun, on Oct. 29 of last year, occurred after KPD suspected Brun was transporting large quantities of methamphetamine in his vehicle. After allegedly sideswiping the KPD officer who stopped him in Lihu‘e, Brun fled in his car, throwing a bag of drugs from the vehicle as he tried to evade arrest.
One of the codefendants asked Brun about the incident, to which Brun allegedly responded that he tossed the drugs. “That’s why, dakine, that’s why I ran,” Brun allegedly said.
The indictment charged that Brun occasionally questioned the prices and quantities of drugs he had ordered.
The entire indictment is posted at thegardenisland.com.