By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER
HONOLULU — Kauai’s auditor is claiming he’s being retaliated against for an audit that reported a high-ranking elected official was improperly using a county gas card.
Ernesto Pasion filed a lawsuit against the county last month, claiming attempts to fire him stem from a 2010 audit of fuel expenses. The audit said the elected official bought gasoline for a private vehicle, prompting an investigation by Kauai police.
“This meant that (the official) was using county resources and taxpayers’ monies for what appeared to be a personal purpose,” states the lawsuit, filed Nov. 25 in Circuit Court. Pasion claims in the suit the official, who is not identified, and Council Chairman Jay Furfaro are political allies.
“After Pasion reported the suspected violations of law … the county and Furfaro began a pattern of adverse employment actions against Pasion,” including threatening to fire him and “making numerous arbitrary demands,” according to the lawsuit.
County spokeswoman Beth Tokioka said the county doesn’t comment on pending litigation, and she didn’t immediately know the status of the police investigation. The lawsuit said the unnamed official refused to answer any questions from investigators and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Furfaro didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Attorneys defending the county filed a motion Tuesday seeking to move the case to federal court because it alleges violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act and the U.S. Constitution.
Pasion said Wednesday the retaliation included a week’s suspension from his job. He said he is scheduled to return to work next Tuesday.
Pasion referred questions about the lawsuit to his Honolulu attorney, Mark Bennett, who didn’t immediately return a phone message left at his office. But Pasion said it’s important for Kauai’s auditor to be independent, and he wants to do his job “without fear of any adverse consequences as a result.”
The council unanimously appointed Pasion to a six-year term as the county auditor in 2009. The lawsuit claims the council recommended terminating him this year because of his job qualifications. According to the suit, Pasion has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in business administration.