by Andrew Walden
Can the University of Hawaii Foundation make inconvenient news ‘disappear’?
That’s the question posed to this editor in an email received Friday from Hawaii News Now news director Mark Platte:
Sent: Friday, August 14, 2015 at 4:15 PM
From: "Platte, Mark" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Editor@hawaiifreepress.com" <Editor@hawaiifreepress.com>
Cc: "Perkins, Michael" <email@example.com>
Subject: Aloha Andrew
There is a reference on your Hawaii Free Press Web site to a story that references Hawaii News Now and a lawsuit by Alvin Katahara against the UH Foundation http://www.hawaiifreepress.com/ArticlesDailyNews/tabid/65/ID/13319/August-16-2014-News-Read.aspx
Since it was referenced without our permission and the lawsuit has apparently been settled, can you please remove the reference? We have removed the story from our Web site as well.
Please let me know that you got this e-mail Andrew.
Hawaii News Now
Here at the bustling Hawai’i Free Press newsroom, we puzzled over this note for about a tenth of a second until remembering that the UH Foundation buys a whole lot of TV commercials.
Then we noticed Platte’s cc to “Perkins, Michael.”
A quick Google search reveals Perkins is a member of HNN’s “Sales Team.”
So we sent this reply:
Why have you removed your story from your website?
Why is a member of your 'Sales team' cc-ed on this email?
Shall I do the math?
In the real world news does not disappear when lawsuits disappear.
And, contrary to Platte’s assertion, “Alvin Katahara vs UH Foundation etal” is far from settled. Just a few days ago--August 3—subpoenas landed on the desk of UH Foundation CFO Paul Kobayashi.
Local accounting firm PKF Pacific has also been subpoenaed. Akamai readers will remember that PKF Pacific Managing Partner Patrick Oki was arrested April 5, 2015 at Honolulu International Airport on embezzlement charges. Oki was the 2012-13 President of the UH Alumni Association and Treasurer of ‘Ahahui Koa Ānuenue and, according to his UHAA bio, “the audit committee chairperson and independent board member of Sopogy….” Termed, “Hawaii’s Solyndra”, Sopogy flamed out in late 2013 after soaking up millions in High-Tech tax credits. Oki’s PKF also provided financial services to HART and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, among others.
But I digress.
What about the abandoned article? Can it be salvaged?
The original link to the HNN article titled “Exclusive: Suit accuses UH Foundation Exec of conflict of Interest” leads to a blank page. The Wayback Internet Archive shows that the HNN article was removed on or before March 29, 2015. But fortunately for those trying to navigate the turgid waters of Hawaii politics, a complete copy can be found cached at “Archive.is.” It reads:
EXCLUSIVE: Suit accuses UH Foundation exec of conflict of interest
Posted: Aug 15, 2014 10:06 AM MST Updated: Aug 15, 2014 2:44 PM MST
By Rick Daysog
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -A former University of Hawaii Foundation executive alleges that he was ousted from his job after he accused his supervisor of having a conflict of interest.
In a lawsuit filed in state Circuit Court, Alvin Katahara said his former boss, UH Foundation Vice President Janet Bullard, ordered him to make thousands of dollars in payments to a company headed by her husband.
"I think there was pressure and you know that at times it was hard to administer," said Katahara.
The contract was for developing a fundraising program and website for the UH Alumni Association.
The vendor is a company called HWB Marketing, which is headed by Janet Bullard's husband Patrick Bullard. And according to the lawsuit, the website is not operational.
UH Foundation officials declined comment but Bullard said the foundation ruled that there was no conflict in the matter. He added that the website is fully functional.
"I just say this is a disgruntled employee. There's allegations that are ludicrous," Patrick Bullard said.
According to the lawsuit, the original contract called for a $2,600 monthly retainer that was later expanded to $4,800 a month. The foundation also paid HWB and its affiliates $50,000 to develop a software program for the site.
Katahara said the payments later ballooned to about $168,000 and that the website has generated no revenue for the alumni association.
Katahara said he tried to withhold some of the payments due the problems in developing the website. But he said Janet Bullard later ordered him to make the payments and chewed him out for not doing so.
If a court finds that a conflict in fact does exists, the foundation could attract the attention of the IRS and the state Attorney General's office, which investigated allegations of self-dealing in nonprofits.
State Sen. Sam Slom, a member of the Senate Special Committee on Accountability, compared the contract dispute to the Stevie Wonder concert fiasco, in which the university was scammed out of $200,000.
"My concerns are that there's a lack of oversight and there's a lack of internal controls," said Slom, R-Hawaii Kai.
"This should be a clarion call to the Board of Regents. They got to do a better job."