the fixers
Interview

Charles Chidiac

Chidiac Charles Chidiac is a financier-developer who knew the Lums in Hawaii. He was also involved in Asian Pacific Advisory Council-Vote, a Los Angeles Democratic fund-raising group once headed by Nora Lum. He has a checkered past. He was an unindicted co-conspirator in the BNL financial scandal.

Gene & Nora Lum | Ron Brown | APAC | Hillary Clinton


Q: Give me an example of corruption in Hawaii in the 1980s.

Chidiac: Well, if you want to do business in Hawaii, you go and you apply for a zoning. You get a call from an attorney. And he says, "I want to see you." "About what?" "Oh, I want to talk about your application."

"Who are you?" "I am attorney so and so." "But, I already have an attorney." "It's [necessary] to see you anyway." So, he comes over and he says, "Listen, you applied. This attorney of yours is no good. If you don't hire me, you'll never get your zoning. And you have to sign a contract."

"So, what's with the contract?" "Well, it depends on the extent of the project. If the project is big, say half a million dollars, you have to give me legal fees." I say, "How many hours you going to work?" He says, "Well, I'm not going to do anything. I'm just your attorney." I say, "Well, I have an attorney."

In fact, I had three law firms working for me. And the project was held up for three years in order for me to pay $500,000 to $600,000. So, that's how they do it. It's called in Hawaii, "law firming", instead of laundering. "Law firming" is laundering money through law firms.

Q: In other words, bribery?

Chidiac: Pure, pure bribery, under the cover of being legal work.

Q: Describe Nora Lum.

Chidiac: Well, she is a Japanese woman of Japanese descent...And she's very smart. She has a degree in chemistry. Her husband is an attorney. She depends on her husband for legal advice. She doesn't drive a car, but her husband drives her all the time.

But, anyway, she managed to fool me for a few years....She told me that she had talents in raising money for campaigns. And that she knew all the tricks of raising money, to [the] extent that she can raise money, keep a portion of it, and beat the system.

Q: What did Gene do? And how did you first meet him?

Chidiac: I met him with her. I had a local guy who used to drive me around, and he introduced me to them. He worked always in the campaigns of the local Democratic party, and he brought them to my office, and I met them at the same time. This was in 1989.

Q: Describe Gene.

Chidiac: ...She chews him up all the time....He is the driver; she's the boss.

Q: You had a very close relationship with them for awhile.

Chidiac: I mean, I had the engineer ready, I had the money ready, I had everything ready and this thing was dragging on and on and on. And I didn't realize that the state of Hawaii, to extort half a million or a million dollars from a developer, would go to the extent of destroying a project that would create 3,000 to 4,000 jobs for the poorest part in the islands, where you have 30% unemployment. The sugar cane industry is collapsing, and they just didn't care.

I was building the only destination resort in Hawaii, where people would come to the Big Island of Hawaii and have everything in one spot. We were planning to build three hotels, and small hotels but with special service....

Q: Big money?

Chidiac: The project was going to cost somewhere around $800 million.

Q: Did Nora and Gene have access to Governor John Waihee?

Chidiac: All the time, any time. Any time.

Q: How do you know?

Chidiac: He called her; she called him. She went to see him. And she saw his assistants, his two confidantes, [who were] also Japanese.

Q: What was her stock in trade?

Chidiac: Power pimping...and greed. She pays for power; she buys power.

Q: Did she ever have big success in Hawaii?

Chidiac: I think I was her biggest success. I was [a] sort of spring that she sat on and jumped into the high level of the Democratic party. She introduced me to late Commerce Secretary Ron H. Brown in Honolulu.

...She was very quiet about some of her businesses, and she only boasted about her power....I knew that [the Lums] were involved in a golf course.

Q: Did she have many businesses?

Chidiac: She had no business. She was just acting as a power peddler. And raised money for different councilmen and politicians.

Q: Were the Lums wealthy people to begin with?

Chidiac: No....In fact, she came from a very poor family. Gene came from a middle class family, I understand.

Q: You told me once that you taught Nora what she knows about politics and political fundraising....

Chidiac: Well, in 1988, I was asked by a Lebanese-American...[to] help George Bush in the election. So, I went to Washington to meet George Bush. I hadn't met him before, and it was a private party for him.

[My friend and I worked closely mobilizing] minorities in America to vote for George Bush...Mainly we worked on the Lebanese-Americans and the Greek-Americans. And then, we have a lot of churches that come into the scene, the Russian churches, the Greek Orthodox and Eastern Europe and so on.

So I developed this experience, and in 1992, when I decided that George Bush was inhuman and insensitive to what the American people want,...I told Nora Lum, I said, "[Since] now you have connections in the Democratic party, let me give you some ideas about using minorities in the campaign, and minorities donate a lot of money to campaigns because they come from dictatorships, and they feel that they can identify with democracy....Let's teach the Democrats how to use minorities in the campaign because these minorities bring the 10% difference between one candidate and the other."

And she said, "It's a great idea. Tell me how..." And she and her husband sat down and started taking notes. And we had different sessions on that and...how Bill Clinton should talk about different issues that concern different minorities.

Q: What motivated them?

Chidiac: They told me that...their only interest was to make money.

Q: Nora borrowed $127,000 from you at one point, yes?

Chidiac: She wanted the money to help me. She said, "Don't give me any more money. Just loan me the money, and I'm going to help you.

Q: What did you think she meant, "move into the hierarchy of the Democratic party"?

Chidiac: ...[I understand she] used the money to give donations to the Democratic National Committee.

Q: How did the Lums and Ron Brown meet?

Chidiac: ...I think she met him through John Waihee because...as the governor, he met Bill Clinton. And plus,...a Democratic governor would know the chairman of the Democratic party.

Q: Were you ever around Nora and Ron Brown in Hawaii?

Chidiac: I just met Ron Brown one time. She came to my house with her husband and took me over to a restaurant where Ron Brown was there with his wife and daughter. I talked to him about the campaign and the ideas I gave Nora Lum and gave him a list of issues,...and he was very pleased. He put it in his pocket, and he thanked me and that was it. I was there for maybe 40 minutes.

Q: Why do you think she took you there?

Chidiac: To show off that she knows somebody who knows something,...and I'm the guy who gave her all these ideas...

Q: How was their relationship?

Chidiac: ...[It] appeared to be very close, but I think the relationship was young at the time. It became stronger during the campaign. I met him in May 1992.

Q: Did she name-drop a lot?

Chidiac: To me? To me, she dropped names, yeah. But I don't know what she dropped with Ron Brown, except that she was an expert on campaigning and that's what he wanted.

Q: How does Asian Pacific Advisory Council-Vote get started?

Chidiac: They told me that they're going to be running a...minority campaign office....

Q: When they said "minorities," did they really mean Asians?

Chidiac: They meant minorities. Minorities are minorities....Asian doesn't mean Oriental. You don't have to [have] slanted eyes. You could be Indian, you could be Pakistani, you could be Lebanese. You could be Russian. You know, Russia is part of Asia.

What they told me is that they are now in a big way with [late Commerce Secretary Ronald H.] Brown and the Democratic party....

Q: And what was APAC, as you understood it?

Chidiac: Well, as I understood it, it was my original idea that we should mobilize minorities....

[Nora] told me that [a] super warehouse with big offices was donated by a friend to the party. I mean, to set up something like that you need like $25,000 to $30,000 just to set up computers and stuff....They just had a poster outside that said "APAC". And every time I came to put pictures of Bill Clinton on it, or Al Gore, she would come and tear them up. And I said, "Why?" She said, "No, don't put anything there. Don't put anything there."

Q: Why?

Chidiac: ...I never thought anything of it. I said, "Strange woman."

...It was a fundraising office for the Democratic party....I put several [advertisements] in the newspaper...for money, and [I] understand now that she is saying that office had nothing to do with fundraising. So what happened to the money?

Q: Your allegation is that this was a false front: This was not a real fundraising outfit for the Democratic National Committee.

Chidiac: Well, the DNC says it didn't receive any money. So, where is the money?

Q: How did John Huang fit into this?

CHIDIAC: He used to come [almost] everyday to the...APAC office...He just came around and see how things are going....[Nora] told me that he donated $350,000....[And] she told me that in total...this office raised $700,000 "without you"....

Q: What was the idea behind the APAC appreciation dinner? Guests paid $150 a head to attend and you and Huang and others were honored....

Chidiac: She organized it....Mr. Clinton sent me a piece of rock from Arkansas, and the California House of Representatives and Senate...gave me posters of appreciation.

Q: Did you feel appreciated?

Chidiac: Yeah, I felt great that we're defeating George Bush. That was my objective.

Q: How about that piece of Arkansas rock?

Chidiac: I left it in Honolulu. I don't carry it in my bag.

Q: What was the Lums' way of operating in Los Angeles?

Chidiac: Very secretive. They had the back room in the place. She had a big checkbook on her desk. She wouldn't talk to anybody in the back. She always came to the front. That was her secret operation, she and her husband. And only her daughter could go in.

Q: Was she talking to big wigs on the phone all the time?

Chidiac: Yeah, -- We had calls from Hillary Clinton I heard her talking to Hillary Clinton. I heard her talking to Ron Brown.

Q: What does Nora Lum talk to Hillary Clinton about?

Chidiac: I don't know.

Q: How do you know they had the conversation?

Chidiac Because she would be on the phone sometimes in the main room, ...the reception area. And...I would hear her say, "Yes, Mrs. Clinton." And I said, "Who is this?" And she said, "Hillary just called."

Q: Could she have been making this up?

Chidiac: I don't know.

Q: Why would Ron Brown think about putting the Lums in Los Angeles?

Chidiac: Los Angeles was a key state in the campaign. Without Los Angeles you couldn't have won the election. Secondly, there's a big Oriental minority and Asian minority in Los Angeles...Los Angeles was the natural place to have the setup. It was the melting pot.

...[Nora] took the initiative,...and she convinced Ron Brown...that she [was] the woman to do it.

Q: She was capable in that way, I guess. And I also understand she was a great gift giver. You got a gift if you met Nora Lum. Tell me about that.

Chidiac: Well, it's part of the Japanese culture. [W]hen you go and visit somebody, you always take a present. It's part of a culture. And in Hawaii, people give presents....She goes to somebody, she gives a present, and she uses it in excess in order to show affection. It's an Asian sort of tradition.

Q: What kinds of presents would she give?

Chidiac: Well, it depends on the importance of the guy. She gave me one time a set of Monte Blanc pens. I think she paid maybe $300 or $400 for them...

Q: Does it surprise you that a woman who owns a souvenir shop and her part-time lawyer-husband can go in and out of the White House 13 times and accompany the president to Jakarta within three years from the time you say they borrowed $127,000 from you?

Does it surprise you that their daughter ends up working for Ron Brown? That Gene almost gets on Amtrak's Board of Directors? That Nora can come and go with Bruce Lindsey, who helps them do an oil deal in Oklahoma?

Does it surprise you?

Chidiac: Well, I mean, if the President is corrupt, everything's possible.

Q: Do the Lums bear any responsibility? How did they get where they are?

Chidiac: Well, if the Lums can corrupt the president, the president has to be corrupt....They use power to make money. They don't use power for public service. We want a leadership to serve the people. And that's how America is going to be great.

[END]

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