By NANCY COOK LAUER
Eighteen months after two Environmental Management employees were arrested on charges of stealing diesel fuel from the Waimea baseyard pumps, the county administration has instituted procedures to keep it from happening again, but the Prosecutor’s Office has yet to formally charge the suspects.
Prosecutor Mitch Roth, who inherited the case after his election in November, said Thursday the investigation is ongoing.
“We are actively working on this case, but I can’t give you a timeline,” Roth said. “Of course, I’d like to see things move more quickly, but we have to make sure we get it right the first time.”
DEM employees Donald Wilbur, 40, and Billy Colliado, 42, were arrested Oct. 29, 2011, according to Hawaii County Police Capt. Chad Basque, head of the Criminal Investigation Division for West Hawaii. Wilbur was arrested on nine counts ranging from felony theft to trespassing to unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle. Colliado was arrested on felony theft. The two were arrested but not charged and then released pending investigation, Basque said.
Wilbur, who was an equipment operator, and Colliado, a Solid Waste Division facility attendant, were “dismissed” from the county in December 2011, Deputy Human Resources Director Sharon Toriano said Thursday.
The theft of gasoline and diesel fuel had been going on for as long as two years, with DEM Solid Waste Division employees using Department of Public Works gas keys to fill 55-gallon drums with fuel, according to county documents obtained by West Hawaii Today. A DPW bookkeeper noticed the increase in county fuel purchases, and county employees cooperated with police in a surveillance investigation, according to the documents.
A Nov. 1, 2011, report from a Solid Waste Division employee details how he, along with DPW division heads, conducted surveillance over three weekends when most of the thefts seemed to be occurring. He said they then contacted the police, who were on the scene the final weekend and made arrests.
But documents indicate that top DEM officials resisted the investigation and then verbally abused the West Hawaii employee who cooperated with DPW and the police. The employee estimated that more than $100,000 worth of diesel fuel had been stolen.
The employee described how immediately after the arrests he was called to Hilo to a meeting with top DEM officials.
“So many questions were thrown at me, as if I were the villain,” he said in his report. “I said that I really thought I did the right thing. We caught the guys red-handed and this stealing is being stopped and this loss of money will end. As far as I’m concerned, mission accomplished.”
West Hawaii Today agreed to keep the employee’s name confidential because of his fears of retaliation.
Mayor Billy Kenoi said Thursday that the thefts were a learning experience for the administration. Kenoi said he brought department heads to a meeting where new procedures were put into place so there are now more controls over access to fuel at county baseyards. Gas keys are no longer tied to vehicles, but to individuals, and invoices are scrutinized, he said.
“Every agency was told to take a good hard look at their procedures and tighten them up and ensure accountability,” Kenoi said. “You learn something from every incident.”
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.