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State briefs for May 20

Campaign donations under investigation

HONOLULU — Federal authorities are investigating allegations that a Hawaii-based defense contractor illegally donated $150,000 to the re-election fund of a Maine senator who advocated for an $8 million Navy contract with the company, according to court documents unsealed this week.

A U.S. judge approved an FBI warrant application to search a hard drive containing images of an iPhone belonging to Martin Kao, former CEO of Navatek, now known as Martin Defense Group, based in Hawaii with offices in Maine, Washington, D.C., and other states.

The warrant was also for an iPhone belonging to the company’s former chief financial officer.

The phones were seized during a separate investigation that led to an indictment accusing Kao of defrauding banks of more than $12.8 million meant to assist businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. He pleaded not guilty in that case.

Navatek, which as a federal contractor was prohibited from making political campaign contributions, set up another business that was used to conceal the donation to a political action committee supporting the re-election of Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, according to an FBI affidavit filed with the warrant application.

Between June and September 2019, Kao, his relatives and relatives of other former company officials gave money to Collins’ campaign, which Kao then reimbursed using Navatek money, the affidavit said.

In August 2019, Collins announced Navatek received a Department of Defense contract worth $8 million for advanced hull planning research, the affidavit said.

Travel to Guam discouraged amid COVID-19 surge

HAGATNA, Guam — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has elevated Guam’s COVID-19 risk level to its highest tier and is urging people to avoid traveling to the island.

Eighty-eight individuals were in isolation with COVID-19 infections on Guam as of Wednesday morning, with nine new patients identified Tuesday, according to Guam’s Joint Information Center.

Data from the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services showed that newly confirmed infections and hospitalizations increased during the past seven days.

The CDC’s primary criteria for level 4, its highest risk level, is an incidence rate of more than 100 COVID-19 cases during the past 28 days.

Public health officials also urge anyone who must travel to Guam to be vaccinated beforehand and to wear masks, maintain distancing, avoid large gatherings and self-monitor for symptoms.

Ex-pineapple workers get $4.8M after abuse case

HONOLULU — The federal government has collected more than half of a $8.1 million court judgment awarded six years ago to 54 Thai farmworkers abused while working on a Maui pineapple plantation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Tuesday.

The Justice and Treasury departments collected $4.8 million from Maui Pineapple and its entities, and the EEOC will distribute the money to the workers, said Anna Park, the commission’s regional attorney. The agencies will continue to collect funds owed the workers until the full judgment is satisfied, she said.

The EEOC sued Global Horizons, a labor contractor, and six Hawaii farms a decade ago. The lawsuit alleged workers were subjected to discrimination, uninhabitable housing, insufficient food, inadequate wages and deportation threats. Five farms settled for a total of $3.6 million.

A U.S. court in Honolulu in 2015 found the remaining farm that didn’t settle — Maui Pineapple Co. — was jointly liable with Global Horizons for $8.1 million.

Park said some of the 54 workers remained in Hawaii, some returned to Thailand, and others moved to the U.S. mainland.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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