It Didn’t Stay Here: Las Vegas aloha to union money allegedly stolen in Hawaii

Brian Ahakuelo

Hawaiians call Las Vegas their “ninth island” because they love to visit, gamble and, thanks to the lower cost of living, even live here. By one account, every year 10% of all Hawaiians make the 5,550-mile roundtrip to Vegas, many traveling several times a year. Dozens of Hawaiian high school class reunions are held annually in Sin City. The California Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas caters mightily to this offshore market with Hawaiian signage and cuisine. As someone New To Las Vegas, I run into native Hawaiians around town all the time.

Among those frequent visitors has been the family of Brian Ahakuelo, a once-prominent union leader on the islands. However, there may be a problem with some of the travels. If a recent 70-count federal indictment in Honolulu is to be believed along with an earlier union investigation, some of the trips were financed with money stolen from his union.

Ahakuelo, 58, wife Marilyn Ahakuelo, 55, and sister-in-law Jennifer Estencion, 52, all have pleaded not guilty to all the charges, the result of a three-year federal probe. Their lawyer promises a vigorous defense. The allegations include embezzlement, wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. Some of the criminal charges carry prison sentences of up to 20 years.

That makes Ahakuelo and his wife the newest candidates for my list, It Didn’t Stay Here. It’s a roster of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Vegas. It’s my rebuttal to “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famously cheeky marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The list can be found elsewhere on this page.

This account is put together from various sources. They include the indictment, other official court records, union documents and news accounts going back years in the Hawaii media.

Ahakuelo was business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 1260 in Honolulu for five years. He was ousted in 2016 after the parent union placed the local in trusteeship for a time over allegations Ahakuelo ran the labor unit sort of like a family business. That action seems to have triggered the federal investigation leading to the indictment.

“Brian Ahakuelo hired family members at inflated salaries (some of whom did little or no actual work for the union) and authorized the use of union funds for personal travel, a vehicle, and dining expenditures,” declared a press release last month from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Hawaii.

The charging document picks up on that theme. It accuses Ahakuelo and his kin of living large on the union’s dime and even falsifying the results of a union vote to raise dues by a reported 100% so they could continue to live large. (In a separate federal case, according to online court records,Michael Brittain, a crony of Ahakuelo, just pleaded guilty to the vote-rigging conspiracy and agreed to testify against him.)

As so often seems to be the case with allegations of far-away ill-gotten gains, Las Vegas figures into the mix. “On or about October 16, 2014,” the indictment states, “Marilyn Ahakuelo expended Local 1260 funds for personal travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, coinciding with the closing of a home purchase in Nevada.” Another portion of the indictment states it more vividly: “Marilyn Ahakuelo … while an employee of Local 1260 … did embezzle, steal and unlawfully and willfully abstract and convert to her own use (and the use of others) the moneys, funds, securities, property, and other assets — in the approximate amount of $1,564.00, in that Marilyn Ahakuelo used Local 1260 funds to pay for roundtrip airfare to Las Vegas, Nevada … a trip for which there was no union purpose or benefit.” (The indictment doesn’t say who bought the house, but news accounts in Hawaii have suggested an Ahakuelo in-law lives in Las Vegas.)

Then–again quoting the indictment–“Brian Ahakuelo and Marilyn Ahakuelo expended and directed the expenditure of Local 1260 funds for personal travel to Nevada in or around Thanksgiving 2015, Christmas 2015 and New Year’s Day 2016.” The cost of that travel was put at $3,313.24. Another section of the indictment suggests they stayed there for 43 days from November 21, 2015 until January 3, 2016, meaning the union’s top man was thousands of miles from his office for more than a month.

When Local 1260 was put into trusteeship in 2016 by the IBEW, the parent union issued a notice of hearing full of allegations, which Honolulu TV station KITV got its hands on and published. The document centered on money paid by the local to the Ahakuelo clan for “personal expenses for which no legitimate union business was conducted.” It appears Ahakuelo and his wife weren’t alone on that extended trip to Las Vegas at the end of 2015. According to the notice, others whose airfare to Las Vegas was paid by union money during that period included “Business Manager’s son, Business Manager’s daughter-in-law, Business Manager’s daughter, Business Manager’s son-in-law, as well as Business Manager’s nephew and his girlfriend.”

Other expenditures in the notice included additional airfares to and from Vegas by Ahakuelo and his wife, Vegas taxis, Vegas meals, a Vegas rental car, gas and a Vegas hotel room. No word if it was at the California Hotel and Casino.

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Las Vegas aloha to union money allegedly stolen in Hawaii — 24 Comments

  1. Lots of criminal cases around the country have been pushed back because of coronavirus and the closure or reduce operations of courthouses.

  2. I just read that this case has been pushed back till late 2021 for trial. I guess the defense has a good case and wants to tell the full story of what actually happened. I’m going to read Brian AHAKUELO’S book. I’m sure that will expose the information of what’s ahead.

  3. I saw that he wrote a book. He seems to be very talented. The book is sold on Amazon. Everyone I spoke with has told me that what is being done to him is false and that he and his family are good people. I guess anyone can say whatever they want nowadays and ruin you. I saw he opened his own consulting firm. I just looked it up. His book is called The Demise of Labor. I’m going to buy a copy and read it.

  4. I heard the same thing. They have stopped all the cases till next year. I guess Hawaii got some big problems with the economy, COVID 19 problems, rail problems, homeless problems, traffic problems, the highest cost of living problems. Even the prisons are overrun with COVID 19 problems. Sad really. I wonder what the politicians are doing. It all caught up with them. I heard the Ahakuelo case is a farce too. Do people know that he has a good family, grandkids, a successful business and hasn’t lived in Hawaii since 2016. That 4 people admitted they plotted a conspiracy against him and his family? Sad for this really good family. I’m sure they are continuing being good citizens. I checked there backgrounds, did you know they have no arrests, never been in trouble, and have been just normal people. I guess they must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  5. I heard that there is a huge amount of conflicting evidence that is contrary to the prosecutions allegations. They have even stopped the cases in Hawaii till next year now. This seems ridiculous as this so called case has been going on for over many years. Nearly 5 years. It’s a vendetta and a setup. Everyone can see it. The 3 defendants have been unjustly treated. Time to move on. Boring.

  6. Well, I can’t find it. My Google search of the defendant’s name since the day of the indictment generates fewer than 30 hits. None that I saw came anywhere near your description of a lawyer discussing the case.

  7. I’m really only writing about the Las Vegas angle. But I would be happy to review the article you said you read by a lawyer about the case.

  8. Why didn’t you write about all wages earned by all 19 staff employees? That attorney and many attorneys in Hawaii know that Brian Ahakuelo is a honest man. He served the community and gave from himself and his heart. These attorneys learned about the labor laws, and labor movement from Brian Ahakuelo. Did you know that his company that he started after he left the union is successful too?

  9. I wrote about the allegations of personal gain by family members in the indictment. It is not true that I asserted this as fact. It will be up to prosecutors to prove the allegations in court. What is the link to the article you read by a lawyer about the case?

  10. In your last post you explain that you did not comment on certain facts because you lack the knowledge of the information. It’s factual. Just look it up. In your article you wrote that members of Brian AHAKUELO’s family gained by being on trips that had no business purpose. That’s totally untrue. No factual basis and just a assumption by media coverage. Just like wages paid to staff that were family members. Media alludes to they were paid lavish, inflated salaries. Not true. It’s in the Federal Government filings each year of how much each employee made. Brian AHAKUELO’s staff who were family made less than the others in the office. That was never reported. I guess that’s not news that people will read. Inflation by ambitious reporters is the norm today. It’s not about responsible journalism. Maybe as a more experienced reported you may be able to teach through your blog what responsible journalism is. My contacts in the federal government are scrambling to do damage control on this case. I find it interesting how the law is different than winning and losing. I wonder what is law vs people just trying to boost their careers. I guess as this case goes through the system, we will all see, if the right things are done and ambition and winning is not the goal of the government. I read a article by a attorney not on this case, who talks about his take on this entire matter. He feels strongly that there is much to see and learn in this entire case. He believes the truth will come out. He alluded to the facts show that the 3 did not do what they are saying. I want to see if the media, strongly goes out when these 3 people are found not guilty, or the case is dismissed, that they use the same passion and vigor to exonerate and clear their names. Front page, headlines, run stories for weeks and years. Let’s see if the press is honest or just trying to make money.

  11. The reason I didn’t mention you are “correct” on certain facts is because I lack sufficient knowledge. It seems that the defendants have competent counsel, who should be able to show that the government’s case is, as you put it, “messed up” if that is the situation. However, in my experience (I’m an old court reporter), a case as badly put together as you suggest this one is gets aborted long before it gets to trial, either by a plea bargain to far lesser charges or an outright dismissal because the prosecutor on the case realizes what’s going on. I suppose we shall see.

  12. Are you sure? Now your starting to get it. This case is totally messed up. You will see. Yes, Investigators do things that they get caught up in due to media. Sometimes they do not do a thorough investigation. Sometimes they do. But as you start researching, you will find out that I’m correct. You didn’t mention that I was correct about the union local 1260 elections that was lost by one of the people behind the conspiracy to oust Brian Ahakuelo and you didn’t mention that the person who won the election is the cousin to one of the people who pleaded guilty to fraud. Now why is that. That is a fact.

  13. You are entitled to your opinion on “defensive,” although as I see it, I am simply responding point by point in a respectful way. My blog is primarily about Las Vegas, and the post concerned the alleged Las Vegas connection. You will see on the blog many, many other posts like this. I don’t profess to know anything about Hawaii politics, labor unions or even law enforcement. I have no vested interest in the outcome of the case, except that guilty parties should be convicted and innocent parties should be acquitted. If evidence supports what you write and they are acquitted, fine by me. Brian Ahakuelo will have material for a new edition of his book.

  14. My post was about a still-pending federal indictment with a Las Vegas connection. Nothing more. In my experience, U.S. attorneys might get ideas for things to look into from the media, but they’re not going to bring an indictment until after a proper investigation is done, often by the FBI, and they think they have a solid case to prosecute. Now, that being said, federal prosecutors do occasionally screw up, but not often.

  15. You sound “defensive” in your post. Don’t be. Read your article. Then follow All the Evidence. You will become a responsible writer when you actually do your homework on this case.
    Brian Ahakuelo was not going to get involved in corruption. Not be a follower so he took his normal path. He was an agent of change. Trying to improve the standards of workers in Hawaii. Actually he worked in Washington DC so you could say he was trying to help all workers in this country. I know that’s not a sexy story like “conspiracy” or “fraud” but it’s the truth. Revealing myself would be mind blowing as I am in Hawaii and work at a very high level in the business and political community. I know Brian, his wife Marilyn and their entire family. They are good people. Very honest and religious. When someone sets up a person and their family, that’s extreme. The union set them up and Hawaii does the same thing they always do, believe and give themselves away to the suit and tie on the mainland. Sad! Hawaii complains about rail, traffic, and the high cost of living but does nothing to fix it.
    Well Brian Ahakuelo was trying to fix a lot of it. He believed in Hawaii. He dedicated his entire life to helping others. So I implore you. Do your research. Follow the trail. You may find that there is a real story out there. It’s just not the one you wrote.
    By the way, one of the leaders who helped the union take Brian Ahakuelo out of office, just lost his election for the local union. Hmmmm. I wonder who beat him? Well it’s the cousin to one of the people that pleaded guilty to rigging a vote. Now that’s a pretty good start. Don’t you think?

  16. The great bulk of the post cited the indictment, which is certainly an adequate factual basis for a story about a case that as far as I know is pending and has yet not been resolved. The post noted not only that not-guilty pleas were entered, but also that the lawyer for the defendants vowed a vigorous defense, so a reader would know the charges are disputed. Very little in the post is asserted as undisputed fact. It’s sort of silly to mention “getting a story out first” when my post came weeks or even years after Hawaii media coverage of some of the alleged events referenced. The post is simply part of a series, “It Didn’t Stay Here” (a play on a famous marketing slogan about Las Vegas), consisting of accounts of folks in trouble elsewhere for things that may have happened in Las Vegas. A federal indictment in Hawaii alleging stuff that happened in Las Vegas qualifies as “trouble elsewhere,” as an indictment is clearly trouble in and of itself. Since you choose to be anonymous, I don’t know exactly who you are, but I might guess you have some connection to the defendants. I invite you to reveal your identity and also to detail in future comments “the other side,” as you put it. It is definitely my intention when the matter is finally resolved to make note of the outcome in some way.

  17. I’ve been following this case since 2016. I find stories all over the internet that have damaged the good name of the Ahakuelo Family.
    It’s unprofessional to write stories that say things that allude to guilt of the 3 individuals. It’s easy to try and walk a fine line, trying to use facts that are from only the sources that are trying to build a case when there isn’t one.
    I know the Ahakuelo family. I live in Hawaii and I can say that the entire event is not true. They were set up. If you look at local 98 in Philadelphia of the IBEW you will find that the government indicted that business manager too. However, there was no trusteeship. Why? We all know why. Brian Ahakuelo was never a target of the government, never under investigation until the media took the story and framed it to there liking. Brian Ahakuelo and his wife Marilyn have never done anything wrong in there entire lives. No criminal backgrounds, no jail, no speeding tickets, nothing. Then just out of the blue, they are these major crime figures? Really? Someone needs to step up and write a story about this family that has been harmed by the union. By the media. That’s the real story. I know they will be found not guilty. They are going to tell their story in court. It will embarrass many. But they will tell it. Jenn Estencion is a harmless law abiding citizen. Write a new article but get the facts first. You could be the first to write the truth. I love the comments of your followers. This last ones are spot on. It seems that there are many out there that are just waiting for the truth to be told by the 3 indicted. I read Brian AHAKUELO’s book and can’t wait for the movie.

  18. The article states more than that. Re read what is written. You slander the 3. Make false accusations that money was and is gone from Hawaii. Anyone with half a brain would look into the other side of the story before writing a story that has no factual basis. There is so much untruth in this entire story that a responsible writer, a responsible journalist, a responsible reporter would research all avenues before writing. Do your work. If you want to be right, then do the work. You will discover the law, and you will discover journalism. Think before you act upon something. It’s not about getting a story out first, it’s about getting the real story. Make sure you write the story properly when the 3 people win in court and prove that everything said about them is wrong. I want to see if you write that with the passion you wrote to harm.

  19. Thanks for the feedback. The article, which has been posted for nearly a year, largely quotes privileged documents such as the indictment and a government press release, states starting in the headline that the charges are allegations, not proven facts, and prominently notes in the third paragraph that the three pleaded not guilty. Is it a falsehood that they pleaded not guilty?

  20. This article is beyond total false hoods. The three are completely innocent and will show the corruption of labor unions when they want to destroy you. Brian, Marilyn and Jenn along with the rest of their family did absolutely nothing wrong. That will be proven in court. This article will be used in future litigation. This article is a joke. Brian, Marilyn and Jenn are honest people. They have no criminal backgrounds, never did anything wrong and will prove it in this case. No one has asked or heard the truth yet. Just watch. You who wrote this article will be ashamed of yourself and face legal ramifications.

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