County gas theft awaits charges, response
HILO —A year after county officials discovered that more than $100,000 worth of fuel had been illegally siphoned from the Waimea baseyard pumps, allegedly by Department of Environmental Management employees, the suspects remain free and taxpayers have not been reimbursed for the loss.
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.
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. In March, then DEM Deputy Director Hunter Bishop had also refused to answer West Hawaii Today’s questions about the thefts, although at that time two employees had already been arrested and left the county’s employ.
DEM employees Donald Wilbur, 39, and Billy Colliado, 41, 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.
Basque said the case was turned over to the Office of the Prosecutor earlier this year. Nini Daker, in the prosecutor’s Kona office, said Monday that the case is still in the “screening stage” until it is “ripe for charging.”
“We want to get all our ducks in a row and make sure we get all the evidence we need to give to the court,” she said.
Wilbur, who was an equipment operator, and Colliado, a Solid Waste Division facility attendant, “separated” from the county in December, said Deputy Human Resources Director Sharon Toriano. She declined to say whether they quit or were fired.
Acting Environmental Management Director Dora Beck declined Monday to talk about the case, citing personnel privacy rights. But she said measures are being taken to ensure fuel thefts won’t continue.
“As far as the general question about handling of fuel, the county is looking at an overall policy to address these situations,” Beck said. “Each department will write their own procedures.”
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.
“From the first awareness of the huge amounts of gas and diesel being pumped from the Waimea gas boy pump … I was instructed to look into this matter by (Division Chief) Greg Goodale,” the employee said in his report. “I didn’t get any support from DEM. I couldn’t even obtain a motion camera to put near the pumps.”
The employee described how immediately after the arrests he was called to Hilo to a meeting with Beck, Bishop and other 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 concerns over retaliation. In confirming the report, the employee said Monday he had witnessed six 55-gallon drums being loaded at a time, with several loads occurring over a single weekend day. He estimated “well over” $100,000 worth of fuel being stolen over the two-year period.
DPW Highway Maintenance Division Director Stanley Nakasone, who oversees county baseyards, did not return telephone calls Monday. But a Nov. 29 memo from him to DPW Director Warren Lee obtained by West Hawaii Today confirmed the DEM employee’s report that DEM employees were putting fuel into gas cans and personal vehicles using a DPW gas key for a truck that was in the shop for repairs.
Lee did not return several messages on Monday.