Former Democrat Lawmaker Gets Prison Time Over Cesspool Bribes
A prisoner behind bars with hands cuffed
Credit: Caspar Benson via Getty Images.

A former Democratic state representative in Hawaii has been sentenced to two years in prison after he admitted to taking bribes to influence legislation.

Ex-Hawaiian state Rep. Ty Cullen took cash and gambling chips in return for lobbying against cesspools to the benefit of a Honolulu businessman. He received a $25,000 fine and the minimum federal prison sentence recommended by prosecutors because U.S. District Court Judge Susan Oki Mollway stated that he had aided officials looking into the case. 

“This was a grievous breach of public trust on your part. It appears to have been motivated by greed, and it stretched out over a number of years,” Mollway said when speaking to Cullen. “I am very concerned that this was not a momentary lapse of judgment.”

Cullen apologized for his role in the bribery scheme. “I want to say I’m sorry to my family who stayed by me, to my friends, to my constituents, my community, and the people of Hawaii,” he said. “I will continue to work to make my wrongs right. And ensure that this never happens again.”

During his time in the Hawaii state House, Cullen admitted to taking $30,000 from businessman Milton Choy, who works in water management and whose business, according to court documents, would have benefitted from the closure of cesspools — tanks where waste was stored at many homes when the sewage infrastructure had not been fully developed on the island. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Sorenson said that the disgraced lawmaker had helped with the investigation. “We did have substantial cooperation from Mr. Cullen which resulted in assisting an investigation that we’re doing,” Sorenson said. 

Fellow Democrat and former Hawaii Senate Majority Leader Jamie Kalani English was sentenced to 40 months for a similar bribery-related crime. 

English, who represented east Maui and the islands of Molokai and Lanai, pleaded guilty to honest wire services fraud in February 2022, and admitted to taking bribes from a local business owner amounting to $18,000 in exchange for “shaping legislation” that would benefit a company involved in the publicly financed conversion of cesspools.

“[English] peddled the power and influence of his position as a Hawaii State Senator and Majority Leader to enrich himself and betray the trust bestowed upon him by those he was elected to serve,” U.S. prosecutors said in a memo.

Hawaii, which banned the construction of new cesspools in 2016, is still working to convert the over 80,000 existing ones and create a more streamlined sewage system. 

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