HONOLULU — U.S. prosecutors Friday asked a federal judge to deny bail for Kaua‘i County Councilmember Arthur Brun, accused of running a drug-trafficking organization, supplying guns, conspiring with a gang leader, requesting sexual favors as payment for drugs and assaulting a law enforcement officer in a case that highlights the hold methamphetamine has on some people on the island and in the state.
Brun was in federal court on O‘ahu Friday afternoon, but before he appeared before the judge, law enforcement held a press conference at Kaua‘i Police Department headquarters in Lihu‘e about the Thursday arrests.
Brun was taken into custody along with 11 others, and faces federal charges related to a massive alleged methamphetamine-distribution ring on Kaua‘i.
At that conference, District of Hawai‘i attorney Kenji Price issued a stern message to people who hold positions of public trust in Hawai‘i: “You are not above the law. Neither position nor privilege will shield you against the accountability that justice requires.”
Price credits collaborating law-enforcement agencies for the arrests. KPD worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other state agencies in an investigation that began in June 2019.
About eight months into the investigation, Brun had been involved in two traffic incidents. The first traffic incident, which occurred in late October, is when Brun is accused of hitting a KPD officer with his car, an officer that was considered a federal officer at the time becuase he was part of the federal investigation into the drug ring.
That drew one of the charges Brun faces — assault on a federal officer — which carries with it a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. The federal indictment further describes that traffic incident: “Brun committed this assault during a traffic stop in an effort to conceal methamphetamine that he had in his possession at the time.”
“Our view is that he led the drug-trafficking organization, and that is what we intend to prove in court,” Price said at the conference, which was set up to inform the public of the charges against Brun.
Price recited much of the indictment that was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai‘i. He also made clear that all of the arrested defendants are innocent until proven guilty.
Brun and several other defendants pleaded not guilty Friday.
According to the indictment, Brun led a methamphetamine-trafficking organization with the other 11 defendants, and coordinated drug distribution and shipment with a leader from the USO (United Samoan Organization), a Samoan gang that operates in and out of prison systems in Hawai‘i and in California.
Listed as the other defendants who conspired to distribute and possess with intent to distribute “a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine” with Brun are: Maluelue Umu, Kelvin Kauwila Kai, Steven Keli‘ikuli, Kaniu Huihui, Sheena Millare, Efren Yanos, Kirsten Makanoe Ayau, Orlando Manguchei, Robby Silva, Haidee Sueyasu and Phrystal Bacio.
All defendants except for Manguchei were held at the Federal Detention Center – Federal Prison Bureau near the Honolulu airport until their 2:30 p.m. scheduled court hearing with the honorable Rom Trader, U.S. magistrate judge.
Manguchei was already in federal custody due to a violation of the provisions of his supervised release.
Millare, Yanos and Ayau were released on a $25,000 unsecured bond on Friday.
Brun is facing the potential of life in prison, according to the charges:
w Five counts of the main meth-distribution charge, will could him 10 years to life per count;
w Assault on a federal officer, up to 20 years;
w Obstruction of justice, up to 20 years;
w Conspiracy to illegally possess a firearm, five years;
On Kaua‘i, some community members are rallying to remove Brun from office, a proposition that isn’t easy becuase the Kaua‘i County Charter doesn’t specifically provide for impeachment of those serving two-year terms unless they’ve broken the county’s code of ethics.
Kapahi resident Fern Holland took matters into her own hands after hearing that Brun was arrested, and has started an online petition to remove Brun from the Kaua‘i County Council.
At 11:12 a.m. Friday the petition had 32 signatures, and by 5 p.m. it gained over 300 signatures. She says she needs 3,000 signatures to make some headway on her goal.
“We the voters of Kaua‘i demand that he (Brun) be immediately removed from his council position,” Holland says in the petition. “He has violated the trust of our community. It is an embarrassment that this has continued for as long as it has and atrocious that he remains the vice chair of Public Safety &Human Services Committee.”
She continued: “This investigation into the corruption and drug-trafficking ring he has orchestrated has been going on for nearly a year and the people of Kaua‘i should not have to accept one more day of him as an elected official.”
Mayor Derek Kawakami and Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro both released statements on the arrest Thursday, expressing disappointment in the situation.
Councilmember Mason Chock expressed his own disappointment Friday, calling for Brun’s resignation from the council.
“As councilmembers elected to serve Kaua‘i, we need to be ready and willing to put the needs of the community first. If a member is not ready or willing to do, they are a liability to this county and island,” Chock said.
“Councilmember Brun should do what is right for the people and help to uplift the integrity of the legislative body. He should resign so he can focus on himself and his family.”
Other councilmembers brought up the innocent-until-proven-guilty rule.
“The County Council is required by charter to uphold a presumption of innocence until guilt is proven,” said Councilmember Felicia Cowden. “The county charter does not allow the council to directly remove a colleague from office.”
Cowden said addiction is a health crisis, and that illegal drug distribution has no business in government leadership.
“Our community has a deeply painful problem with dangerous drugs. I applaud our county police and federal law enforcement for an effective effort at the arrest of 12 individuals that have evidence of their involvement with drug trafficking,” Cowden said.
Councilmember Luke Evslin reitterated the importance of public trust and safety, echoing statements that elected officials should be held to “the highest standards.”
“I am hoping that all involved can take the necessary actions so that we can all move forward and heal as an island. There are too many families on Kaua‘i that have been ripped apart by crystal meth, and we need to come together to end this epidemic in our community,” he said.
Councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i could not be reached for comment, and Councilmember Ross Kagawa declined to comment.
At the federal court hearing held on Friday, Brun and seven other defendants pleaded not guilty, and prosecutors intend to ask the judge to order Brun held without bail through the detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday, March 4 at 1:30 p.m. in federal court in Honolulu.
Stephanie Shinno, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.