Former Union Officer and Employee Found Guilty of Conspiracy, Wire Fraud, and Embezzlement
HONOLULU – After a four-week jury trial before Senior United States District Judge Helen Gillmor, a federal jury today found husband and wife Defendants Brian Ahakuelo (age 61) and Marilyn Ahakuelo (age 59) each guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud, and embezzlement for crimes committed while they were employed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (“IBEW”) Local 1260. Brian Ahakuelo, who served as IBEW’s Business Manager and Financial Secretary, was additionally convicted of money laundering. Judge Gillmor ordered Brian Ahakuelo detained in custody pending their sentencing, which is set for March 28, 2023. Marilyn Ahakuelo was permitted to remain released on bail. A third defendant, Jennifer Estencion, was found not guilty on all charges.
At trial, the evidence showed that Brian Ahakuelo hired family members at high salaries and authorized the use of union funds for personal purposes, including extravagant travel for himself and those loyal to him. In the case of one family member hired by Brian Ahakuelo, little legitimate work was performed. The evidence at trial also showed that Brian and Marilyn Ahakuelo used union funds to purchase personal trips to the mainland, and that Brian Ahakuelo engaged in self-dealing by using union funds to purchase a truck already owned by Marilyn Ahakuelo while allowing her to continue to use it. When his activities largely depleted the union’s coffers, Brian Ahakuelo, with the help of Marilyn Ahakuelo and other union employees, rigged a vote on a resolution to increase membership dues. The voter fraud caused members to pay an additional $3.7 million in dues over approximately eighteen months.
“The extensive testimony and voluminous documentary evidence produced during this trial supports the just and important verdict of guilt returned by the jury as to Brian and Marilyn Ahakuelo,” said United States Attorney Clare E. Connors. “The Department of Justice is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to ensure that our labor leaders carry out their fiduciary duty to members, and that when the evidence reveals otherwise, they face criminal consequences in a court of law.”
“A famous union organizer named Thomas Donahue once said that the only effective answer to organized greed is organized labor. Obviously, Mr. Donahue never met Mr. and Mrs. Ahakuelo,” said Special Agent in Charge Bret Kressin, IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Seattle Field Office. “Unfortunately, organized greed can be found anywhere, but wherever people like the Ahakuelos choose to work their schemes, there IRS-CI will be also.”
“The vast majority of union officers and employees rigorously follow the law and serve their unions honorably. Brian Ahakuelo, along with his wife, Marilyn Ahakuelo, are the rare exceptions. Brian Ahakuelo betrayed the trust of the union membership who rightfully expected him, as a union official, to protect and safeguard their union’s funds and assets for the benefit of the union and not for his personal interests. The Office of Labor-Management Standards will always find those rare exceptions who choose to break the law and the faith of their union members and bring them to justice,” said Ed Oquendo, District Director, Los Angeles District Office, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards.
“The Hawai‘i Department of the Attorney General is grateful to the team of investigators from our Department and at the federal level, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s prosecutors for their commitment and dedication in achieving a just verdict in this case,” Attorney General Holly T. Shikada said. “We will continue to work collaboratively to hold individuals who defraud those they are elected to represent accountable.”
Brian Ahakuelo and Marilyn Ahakuelo were convicted of one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of five years and 42 counts of wire fraud, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. Brian and Marilyn Ahakuelo also were convicted of embezzlement of a labor union asset (six counts and three counts, respectively), which each carry a maximum sentence of five years. Brian Ahakuelo alone was convicted of 19 counts of money laundering, which each carry a maximum sentence of ten years. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
This conviction is the result of an investigation conducted by the Internal Revenue Service-CI, Department of Labor – Office of Labor Management Standards, and State of Hawaii Attorney General’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael F. Albanese and W. KeAupuni Akina prosecuted the case.