Three individuals and a company accused in a civil lawsuit of selling undeveloped land in Puna to Japanese nationals under fraudulent pretenses and at inflated prices have filed a counterclaim against their accusers.
The April 21 counterclaim by Benfact U.S.A., its principals, Hiroshi Yamazaki and wife Katsuko Yamazaki, and Hiroshi Yamazaki’s son, Hisashi Yamazaki, accuses Toshiko Nishio, Yumiko Motoda and Tadao Motoda of filing a frivolous lawsuit, abuse of process and slanderous, libelous and defamatory statements.
The suit filed Feb. 12 in Hilo Circuit Court alleges the Yamazakis “deceptively induced” Nishio and her late husband, Tsuyoshi Nishio into buying an undeveloped lot in Hawaiian Shores at a price far above market value in 2006. It’s also alleged Toshiko Nishio later bought two more Puna properties from Benfact after her husband died at above market price and the Motodas bought a Hawaiian Shores property at an inflated price after Toshiko Nishio introduced them to Hiroshi Yamazaki.
“My clients’ position is that it’s a misunderstanding and the plaintiffs didn’t really try to resolve it with them. It’s a frivolous lawsuit. They filed the lawsuit and my clients were blindsided by it,” Andrew Daisuke Stewart, a Honolulu attorney representing Benfact and the Yamazakis, said Thursday. “… They disagree with what was offered (in the lawsuit) or what sort of representations were made.”
Alleged “unfair and deceptive inducements” include “foreign ownership of real property was difficult,” that Benfact “was specially licensed and bonded by the U.S. Embassy for the purchase of property in Hawaii,” and the land “was being sold far below market value.” It was also alleged Hiroshi and Katsuko Yamazaki acted as agents in transactions and failed to disclose their ownership of properties.
The counterclaim states on or about Aug. 23, 2013, Yumiko and/or Tadao Motoda posted written statements to a Japanese-language website accusing Benfact of fraud. Alleged statements include “Benfact had previously sold real estate to numerous other Japanese citizens under the name ‘Hilo Hawaiian’ resulting in numerous other fraud victims ….” The statements were allegedly “made in a negligent manner … with the intention of causing harm to counterclaimants.”
“It’s just a general, sweeping statement that they were victims of fraud by my clients,” Stewart said. “There’s no real detail. There’s just a general accusation of fraud.”
According to the counterclaim: “As a result of the defendants’ Internet postings and oral representations to third parties accusing counterclaimants of fraud, Benfact’s business and reputation has suffered and Hiroshi, Katsuko, and Hisashi’s personal reputations have also suffered.”
Hiroshi and Katsuko Yamazaki are Japanese nationals and part-time Hawaii residents. Hisashi Yamazaki is a U.S. citizen who lives in Puna.
“My understanding is that Hisashi’s low level in the company,” Stewart said. “His duties are to show the clients around when they come and he never discusses any substantive matters about transactions or contracts or anything like that. His position is that he just kind of got lumped into the lawsuit.”
Stewart said a March 23 Tribune-Herald story with the original suit’s allegations has caused Hisashi Yamazaki to suffer.
“Hisashi is a member of the community,” he said. “He’s married to a local lady and people have refused to do business with him or even speak with him, even at church. I feel for Hisashi and his family, especially.”
Asked if his clients are licensed to sell real estate in Hawaii, Stewart replied, “I do not believe they are, no.”
“My understanding is that they weren’t representing themselves to be real estate agents. I haven’t seen any real estate contracts,” he said. “... My understanding is that the previous company, Hilo Hawaiian, was licensed. But since that company folded, I was told that (real estate sales) is not the primary business they engage in. The primary business they engage in is property management, helping people keep their lawns, utilities, things like that. … The primary business is in managing properties for other Japanese.”
Stewart said he’s hoping the case can be resolved, but the public “shouldn’t make up their minds until … a judge makes a decision in this case.”
Bill Heflin, a Hilo attorney representing Nishio and the Motodas, called the counterclaim “an interesting tactic” and added, “We’ll deal with it in court, as the ultimate defense to defamation is the truth, and we believe we will be able to show that my clients were wronged as stated in the complaint.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.