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Jury finds Honolulu’s former top prosecutor and 5 others not guilty in a federal bribery case

HONOLULU — A jury found Honolulu’s former top prosecutor not guilty Friday in a bribery case that alleged employees of an engineering and architectural firm bribed him with campaign donations in exchange for his prosecution of a former company employee.

A U.S. grand jury indicted former Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro and five others in 2022. The indictment alleged that Mitsunaga & Associates employees and an attorney contributed more than $45,000 to Kaneshiro’s reelection campaigns between October 2012 and October 2016.

The firm’s owner, Dennis Mitsunaga, who was ordered jailed during the trial because of witness tampering allegations, was also found not guilty after nearly two days of deliberation, Hawaii News Now reported.

He was ordered released after the verdict.

The jury also found the other four defendants not guilty.

The former employee targeted with prosecution had been a project architect at Mitsunaga & Associates for 15 years when she was fired without explanation on the same day she expressed disagreement with claims the CEO made against her, court documents say.

Kaneshiro’s office prosecuted the architect, but a judge dismissed the case in 2017 for lack of probable cause.

“I feel vindicated,” Kaneshiro told reporters after the verdict. “But how am I going to get back my reputation?”

His attorney, Birney Bervar, told The Associated Press, “The first day I looked at this case I didn’t feel there was sufficient evidence of bribery.”

In January, a month before the trial was scheduled to begin, U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright, who had been presiding over the case, unexpectedly recused himself. U.S. Senior District Judge Timothy Burgess in Alaska stepped in to take over the case and traveled to Hawaii for the trial.

Burgess ruled in February that the trial wouldn’t be postponed further despite an investigation into allegations one of the defendants threatened Seabright, which prompted his recusal.

The trial began in March.

Prosecutors didn’t immediately comment on the verdict.

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