Q: The picture you're drawing for me here is of this beautiful, lush,
lovely paradise on earth. It is an island being exploited with the assistance
of local residents for money in a sort of Wild West, anything goes
free-for-all, in which two folks - Gene and Nora Lum - operate on a fairly
small-time level. Yet somehow they are drawn into the circle of the very most
powerful politicians in the country. How in the world were they chosen by the
late US Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown and the national Democratic
Locricchio: Our theory is their connection with Gov. John Waihee, whom
they had met and had [enough of] a relationship to have breakfast with him to
discuss the turning over of this road. And we know that after that [the
conveyance of the road is suddenly placed] on the Department of Land and
Natural Resources official agenda...So they had the clout, the knowledge, the
background with the governor.
The governor was the...first governor in the United States to support Bill
Clinton's climb to the Democratic nomination for president. Clinton was a real
long, long shot at that point, and John Waihee and Clinton became very close
friends...We really believe there was a Cabinet position that was to be given
to Waihee, who was at the end of his government term. He couldn't run for
governor again,...[and] the first election of Clinton, brought into play Ron
Brown and his fundraising activities and Waihee's association.
Unfortunately, just prior to the inauguration, Waihee...flew the Hawaiian flag
above the American flag as a symbol of what had occurred here. And while that
was deemed to be a very honorable thing to do in very certain circles in
Hawaii, it was regarded as tantamount to treason in Washington. Sen. [Daniel
K.] Inouye was furious...and at that point any hope of getting Waihee confirmed
Q: If Ron Brown, going into the 1992 election cycle, were to come to Hawaii
and were to participate in a fundraising benefit , one of the people he would
contact would obviously be Gov. Waihee. At such an event it would not be
remarkable, then, that he would come to meet a Gene and a Nora Lum?
Locricchio: We believe that's what happened. And again, where they were
effective with local entities, as providing the money and being in the
government circles, their relationship with Waihee at the very least got them
an introduction to Ron Brown.
Q: There was another golf course development that the Lums were involved
in on the Big Island of Hawaii. They, in fact, represented themselves as having
an ownership position in this. Do you know anything about that project?
Locricchio: ....They go in and get an option to purchase inexpensive,
relatively non-usable agricultural land where they're going to have to change
zoning and get government approvals. They make large contributions to the
then-mayor of the Big Island, using various family members' names, but clearly
our belief is that it all comes from the same source. And, strangely enough,
the mayor and the planning commission, whom she appoints, does allow this
change over large community opposition.
To buy the land, they needed loans and mortgage security and so forth, and some
of it comes from a place called Oklahoma. And we find out later that liens are
placed on this land in the Big Island to secure the purchase of an Oklahoma
company, and this land is...wild lava-strewn land that ain't nothin' been built
on. The approvals have expired,...and the security is far in excess of its
value. If an appraiser went out and did a valuation on it, it would have been
far, far lower than the security. And yet they're able to use their Hawaii
political influence...to purchase land in Oklahoma, to move them from the
Hawaii stage to the national government influence stage.
Q: Now as you know, local politicians and local authorities may not have
been overly interested in rooting out such near corruption, if not out-and-out
corruption, but federal law enforcement authorities became very interested in
some of these activities. Did you ever have contact with federal officials?
Locricchio: On several occasions, as this whole thing developed, we
were contacted by the FBI. Early on, they had concerns, because the law was
about to change and you didn't need visas anymore,...about this opening the
door for organized crime from Japan coming in through Hawaii into the United
...Australia had a similar invasion of Japanese on its Gold Coast, and their
fear was Japanese criminal interest money and they appointed a special
investigator to watch over that influence in Australia. That investigator was
based, not in Australia, but in Hawaii. It gives you some idea of the
importance of Hawaii for international involvement of yakuza or Japanese
However, in March of 1996 I was asked to come in and speak with the FBI...Their
principal interest was information about Gene and Nora Lum in 1996, and my
understanding was that after they interviewed me and took down oral statements
that they were interested in a deposition which Gene and Nora had given in our
case, in which Gene claimed he had no income whatsoever.
About five days before that deposition, there was a $5 million check conveyed
to Gene Lum that was put in his bank account, when he said under oath he did
not have any money...They made the comment,
"Liar, liar, pants are on fire," when they looked at Gene's statements.
Q: And they knew about the $5 million in his account?
Q: And where did that money come from?
Locricchio: It came from part of this oil and gas lease pre-purchase at
what appeared to be an inflated above-market purchase... by various government
agencies in Oklahoma. And it was one of several checks. We actually had a copy
of a check, but we didn't get that until after the deposition, until some time
Q: Eventually the Lums left Hawaii, where they were these low to mid-level
fixers for various moneyed interests, to go to California, where they more or
less entered full-time politics through Ron Brown, setting up the Asia-Pacific
Advisory Council-Vote. Had you heard of that?
Locricchio: We knew that they were involved in getting political
contributions. It was so part of their make-up that it wasn't a great surprise.
We also heard Ron Brown's name, we knew of his major involvement, and I used to
live for a brief time in California, and politics, Democratic politics in the
Bay area, was Ron Brown. Nothing happened, whether it was local or state
politics, without Ron Brown's involvement...
Q: So it didn't surprise you that if they were going to be involved in the
fundraising game, that there be an association with Ron Brown, who was
basically the chief fund-raiser for Democrats then?
Locricchio: We were surprised only in that stupid blunders by Lum had
occurred in both the Big Island and here in Maunawili Valley, and we thought
that anybody recommending the Lums would warn higher level folks, "Watch
yourself," because the Lums have an ability to bring down huge media attention
on you because they're not careful.
I think the real key to the Lums was they were taught here in Hawaii, don't
bother to be careful, you can commit acts that would be deemed criminal and
ain't nothin' gonna happen to you. So they got educated in Hawaii, and they
transferred that education to the national scene.
..These were the most experienced political operators because of their
training in Hawaii, which had been a success story for Asian-Americans becoming
part of the Democratic process and monies being used as part of that process.
Q: And that, in fact, may well have been what Ron Brown recognized, any
warnings he may have received about the Lums notwithstanding.
Locricchio: These people had their masters degree in Asian-American
politics, and--whether they had the contacts or not--were skilled in making it
appear they did have the contacts.The other thing you must remember is they'd been
successful. They got the Maunawili approvals. They got the approvals on the Big
Island. So they had been successful, and they could wave their successes and
their ability to use those properties, or their own properties, to help out
Democrats in problems.
Q: What became of the Wongs and the other ranchers who were dislocated by
Locricchio: No one was relocated by the developers until we brought
huge media attention. Finally, the Japanese offered $10,000 if they would go
away, or to [allow] people who really didn't have to be relocated to stay there
for 10 years, so long as they came out and supported the golf course [and] were
The houses of the "bad" farmers, who refused to buckle under, were bulldozed.
The Wongs' children were shot at, the 93-year-old Filipino guy who had lived
there for years and years had a SWAT team of 10 police officers pull him out of
his house. He ended up in the emergency room and in the hospital for months and
months. He had to have a tracheotomy, he was so petrified. Fifty-four state and
local police officers, sheriffs, helicopters, submachine guns with SWAT teams,
moved little old ladies and elderly people and children, ripped them out of
their houses, with full governmental support...and the area was sealed off so
the press couldn't get in and take pictures. They had massive bulldozers.
My associate learned that two of the children were so panicked by what was
going on, by this surprise attack, they had hidden under their house, and the
mother, who was off the land, was not allowed to go back on and find her
children. She went ballistic, because she knew they were there, and she knew
they were going to bulldoze the house. She couldn't get the police to go in and
get the kids out of there. A very brave young associate, Tom Levine, an
attorney, went around the police lines, ran in to try and get the kids out of
there. He was arrested. He was booked, he was tried for criminal trespass.
Q: Arrested by this hired police force?
Locricchio: By the police, who on their off hours worked for the golf
Q: Were the children there?
Locricchio: The children turned out to be under the house. Tom finally
convinced the guys [who] were dragging him off for booking to please go in and
look under the house....Sure enough, minutes before the house was bulldozed
down, these frightened to death children were pulled out.
Q: You all tried to stop them, you had a court order, a restraining order,
and you were arrested.
Locricchio: From the Supreme Court of the United States. With that
order in effect, they were able to keep out the press so they could at will go
ahead and bulldoze [and] the public wouldn't be horrified by what they were
seeing. One of our clients, Jenny Olinger, carrying a statue of the Virgin
Mary, which is the only thing she was able to get out, looked at the Hawaiian
bulldozer operator who had blocked the roadway. I had driven my car into the
blade of the bulldozer to say that the Supreme Court permits us to be in there,
and he wasn't budging.
So Jenny just looked at him. While we were arguing she took her statue, looked
at him, walked around the bulldozer, and the media and everybody followed her
in. And nobody dared stop her. We were able to get photographed the tearing
down of the chapel, of the homes...
Q: What is there now?
Locricchio: ...It sits there, bulldozed today, and there was no need to
do it. One of the places [that] the Supreme Court had said you can't touch sits
in an area that is used for maintenance by the golf course. So if you were
permitted there, and you take your life in your hands if you went, you would
see bare land with banana plants and the farmers' plants just sitting there.
And you'd see this opulent golf course now, which has lost lots and lots of
money. There is a God, for its owners. Sitting there, built into the side of a
mountain that is inappropriate and in my belief not a very good--even for avid
golfers--not a very good golf course.
Q: Has the Japanese invasion come to an end?
Locricchio: Once the bubble burst, legitimate Hawaiian bankers and so
forth who had brought the businesses in actually advised Japanese businesses to
sell their interests for 25 cents on the dollar, or for 50 cents on the dollar.
It originally was 50 cents. And those who paid attention only lost 50%. [For]
those who didn't, the valuation has plummeted so that to get a quarter on the
dollar is a great deal at this point.
...Hotels on the Big Island recently sold for a fraction of what it cost to
build them. It was $120 million, they sold for $30 million. Tax bases are
totally unpredictable, the unemployment is overwhelming on the Big Island.
Hawaii's economy is now the worst economy in the United States, growth-wise,
income increase is among the lowest.
Q: It's come undone. But meanwhile, for the Lums at least, they've moved
Locricchio: They've moved on, and I had a friend who was in Washington
for the last inauguration who saw the Lums with Ron Brown's son. One would
think that with what's going on, that anybody in any administration would want
to keep...arms length from these kinds of fixers. And so not much has happened
to the Lums. They continue to just change the stage they play out their part
There are some heroes in this neighborhood -- Donna Wong, Vicky Creed -- who
really sacrificed, who really stuck their necks out in very dangerous
circumstances. The three of us [filed] the largest complaint in the history of
the Federal Elections Commission. It took them five years to investigate the
complaint. It was that big.
Q: You said you have to pay at all levels when you play around in politics
in Hawaii. What does that mean?
Locricchio: It means that with multiple layers of government
inspectors, it's fairly common practice that payment is made.
Locricchio: Cash. Checks are usually not accepted.
Q: Safe to say that if you wanted to learn how to use money and how to
influence politicians, Hawaii is a good place to learn.
Locricchio: It probably is one of the best training grounds, outside of
maybe Indonesia. The sophistication and subtlety is pretty ingrained at this
point, and you can't come in as an outsider and know how to pay...What you
needed during this explosion time of Japanese investment [were] people who knew
how to move quickly through the gamut, where to go, so that you paid as little
as possible through the different layers.
Q: Who were Gene and Nora before they were Gene and Nora, the fixers? If I
say Gene Lum to you, what do you say?
Locricchio: Local attorney who had a golf supply business. Nora was
always a business woman. She has good social skills, introductions, that kind
of thing. But if you looked at their home and the area it was, it's not a very
prestigious area. Kind of middle-class folks who, as far as we were able to
ascertain, came out of nowhere.
Q: And what fueled their rise to the top?
Locricchio: I think the situation at the time. That they were able to
be in Hawaii during this unprecedented historical time of the Japanese economic
invasion, and their ability to build contacts into more than they were, and
then to actually end up with fairly substantial contacts.
Q: So you mean they basically pyramided contacts.
Locricchio: Exactly. And it appears the way they did it was to get
somebody to give money and then to go tell the taker of the money that they had
this contact. In the meantime, they had already told the giver that they had a
Q: Are Nora and Gene Lum typical or atypical kind of people in Hawaii? Are
they low-level fixers who just got lucky?
Locricchio: I guess I have to say that their greed is
exceptional....Most people, the vast , vast, vast majority of people in Hawaii,
[if] they were confronted with the pain that their greed is causing, would have
not gone forward. It appeared to be with Gene and Nora kind of fuel for the
fire. They thrived on their successes...
Q: What did they get out of this?
Locricchio: Well, if...the kinds of money they got out of the Oklahoma
thing, and the money that went into the bank account [are any indication], the
answer to that question is millions. There's also another thing that happens
with fixers, and that is power of association: Image, by being seen with the
Ron Browns and the shakers and the movers. And of the two, Nora really thrives
on that. She has a real need for that association. So even sometimes when it
was done for free,...the reward was money and image power.
Q: What would Ron Brown see in Nora Lum when he sees her at a fund-raiser
and he meets her for the first time?
Locricchio: If I was Ron Brown and knew the potential for
Asian-American contributions to the political process, and he had to know how
that group moved more quickly than any ethnic group in the history of America
up through the various economic layers, you would know that that need to tap
that, when you had to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars, would be
essential. And here you had two people who had successes and abilities to do
that, and were willing to go to California, were willing to leave Hawaii and go
to Tulsa. I don't want to be offensive, but were willing to do practically
anything to accommodate. So he got accommodation, training, awareness of the
Asian-American contribution. It was a goldmine.
Q: You implied this is like sort of ground zero if you want to learn about
Asian politics into America. So are they sort of like "patient zero"? Are they
the first Asian-Americans to enter the Ron Brown-DNC sphere of influence? Or
were they just people who were willing to play the game?
Locricchio: Remembering that Inouye has been a political force for a
long time, and a Japanese-American, no. But he was coming from a whole
different perspective. I don't know anyone else at this point who has wielded
the collection power in the Asian-American-Hawaiian-related community that Gene
and Nora have.
Q: Should Ron Brown have known better than to tie in with these people, or
did he see what he wanted to see?
Locricchio: Putting on the shoes of the guy who's got major [funding]
responsibility is a very difficult situation. I think you become blinded by the
need, how overwhelming is the need. And whoever takes his place, whoever comes
next in line, whether it's Democrat or Republican, is going to find the same
pressures, and need to find the Genes and Noras.
...This is our electoral process. Our whole system is so stupid that we now
have a population that expects its politicians to be corrupt because that's the
only way they can get elected. And something is very wrong.
Q: Where do people like the Lums fit into that?
Locricchio: They take advantage of history. They build a profession and
a lifestyle based on this horrible deviation from democracy, and they make a
living, and a very good living from it.