the fixers

Anthony P. Locricchio

Locricchio An interview with Anthony P. Locricchio

Anthony P. Locricchio is an attorney who represented Hawaiian farmers in a lawsuit against Japanese golf course developers. Locricchio and others also alleged in a 1989 Federal Elections Commission complaint that foreign nationals made illegal contributions to local politicians. Five years later, FEC investigators found more than 100 violations of federal election campaign law.

golf course development | Gene and Nora Lum | ranchers | slaughter of prize bull
Ron Brown & the DNC | money politics in Hawaii |

Locricchio: Basically, Hawaii was a place for native Hawaiians until the missionary families came...and did very well. They became the sugar industry and really the major economic businesses in Hawaii. They really caused the overthrow of the monarchy and caused the United States to intervene...

Until Hawaii became a state, it was really run by that group. But at that point, a revolution occurred, which was a coalition of Japanese-Americans, [and] Hawaiians, and the Democrats took over on a promise of land reform and dispersing the power.

Q: By revolution, you mean a political revolution?

Locricchio: A political revolution.

Q: The ruling political class, if you will, before this time had been pretty much a Republican, ruling class, planter-associated, big company-associated group. And then in the postwar 1950s, as Hawaii approached statehood, there came this more populist thrust, which expressed itself in the Democratic party.

Locricchio: It's been almost exclusively [Democratic since statehood], with only a token Republican counterbalance...In a very short time the ideals of the political revolution got washed out, and it again became a power base that was susceptible to political corruption as it had been in the past....

Q: Then there comes a period in the mid-1980s when the economy is susceptible to foreign involvement. There really truly was a Japanese economic invasion.

Locricchio: We were responsible for blowing the whistle on what was going on here to the Federal Elections Commission, and 110 politicians had to give back money to the Japanese. What we may have simply done was force under the table political influence that had been above the table before that.

Q: What was the money game here? What was the interest?

Locricchio: The game was possible...because of the huge imbalance between the yen and the dollar. One of the most beautiful places on earth suddenly became a bargain place, and Hawaii, a very tiny place, vied with California and New York for first place or second place as the largest investment of Japanese dollars in the United States. When we're talking about places the size of California or New York, you realize how great the investment had to be here....

It was for sale, it was cheap, and you found willing collaborators. The takeover of Hawaii economically and the loss of the environmental protections and protections for our people only occurred because lawyers, accountants, [and] political beings, were ready, willing and able to help sell their birthright.

Q: For a buck.

Locricchio: No, they were very smart. It was for several bucks.

Q: Where would you see Japanese investment?

Locricchio: It started with the tourist industry, with hotels, resorts, golf courses, and then started to move into restaurants, office buildings, really through the entire fabric of the economy. And the usual economic rules were thrown overboard.

For example,...a hotel might sell to a Japanese interest for $30 million. Two months later, it would sell for $60 million. In four months, it would be $120 million....You would have had to, with some of these hotels, rented out rooms at $500 a day and had 100% occupancy to meet the debt service. And for these excellent Japanese business people, there was a total ignoring of standard economics.

...Hawaiians couldn't afford to live in Hawaii. We had, during this period of time and really before that, too, a huge outflow of people at the bottom of the economic sector, especially native Hawaiians. When I was head of Legal Aid, and I would go for meetings on the West Coast with some of my clients from here, immediately our hotel would fill up with expatriate Hawaiians who were homesick and when it was time for us to leave would cry at the airport. They couldn't afford to live in their own homeland because of what was going on here.

Q: And yet it had gotten to the point where Japanese people would have a second vacation home there...

Locricchio: You had to understand that in Japan, the cost of living, and especially housing, was so high that the American dream of owning your house was unavailable to the bulk of the Japanese population. They ended up having to compensate by having Gucci clothes and those kinds of externals. So they would come in tour groups into Waikiki and parts of Hawaii to buy up condos, etc., because those were a great bargain, and could be a place to retire to, or you could say you owned property somewhere. And Hawaii, because of Hawaii Five-O and the various international television programs, was the status place. All of those elements combined to make Hawaii a victim of its own beauty.

Q: Where does golf course development fit in this?

Locricchio: [There] was a mad passion for golf in Japan, and the law in Japan was changed so that all conservation land, recreational land, agricultural land, overnight suddenly became available for golf courses.

Some 2,000 golf courses were in Japan, and there was an effort to hugely increase that number because it was so expensive to be a member.

...There was a group in Japan of farmers, housewives and indigenous people who rose up to react against that and were effective in stopping over 1,500 golf courses from coming into effect. What happened is Japan then had to export its golf course desire, and Hawaii became one of the targets.

Q: How easy was it to come in here and set down? Did Hawaii have any regulations in place governing land acquisition for golf development?

Locricchio: It should have been very difficult, because Hawaii is the only state in the country which has a constitutional protection for agricultural land. You were required, before you changed the use of agricultural land, to have a two-thirds vote to approve those kinds of changes by constitutional amendment....

For the Japanese,...not only was the land a great bargain, but buying the politicians was a great bargain. They used to joke about how little money, how little yen it took to buy influence. They were able to change the law and to get the Constitution ignored.

...The people who were involved in agricultural subsistence farming then became the targets, and the Japanese land owners were getting them thrown out and buying up the land, so they had no place to farm. In this very short period of time, within five years, you went from a predominantly agricultural-supported economy to literally a disappearance of agricultural land for local farmers. And it was a tragic loss that is still the case.

Q: You have your Japanese investor. You have a developer. You have your eye on a piece of land in Hawaii. Tens, maybe even hundreds of millions of dollars are ultimately involved, but the land is not designated for development use. So what you need to do along the way, you're telling me, is first gain influence with the politicians. That turns out to be easy enough. Who else do you need?

Locricchio: You need to hit all the levels of politics....So getting the state law changed was not enough. You then had to go to the local mayor. And he told you to hire his attorney and to give contributions to his campaign. And again, that was fairly easy, and in terms of yen contributions a wonderful bargain.

Q: And when push came to shove, how would it play out? How would people be literally removed from the land they'd be farming?

Locricchio: ...We had situations where the police were actually used to help threaten and terrorize the farmers on these lands. They would come in with false eviction notices, with a policeman in uniform, and these farmers were uneducated, didn't know they were false evictions....They left because they were told, "You'd better get out, or we'll carry you out."

Q: You mean the police were privately employed for these purposes?

Locricchio: We have a unique situation here...where police are permitted to work on their off hours for private land owners and private businesses. They're permitted to wear their uniforms, to carry their guns, and to have many of the police powers they have as public police officers. So very often we were fighting the army of the Japanese land owner who was our local police. And we lost those fights, because our police were on the payroll of foreign nationals.

...Or, if they didn't use the police posse and used somebody else, you'd go to make a criminal complaint, and absolutely nothing would happen. Whether cattle were shot, cattle were stolen [or] you had eye witnesses, absolutely no police action would be taken....

...[Even] though we lived here and experienced it, we got numbed by our Americanism. We kept thinking, "This will work out. We will be able to stop this." Because Americans are ultimately optimistic....Even though we're angry at our government,...we still believe deep down the American democratic system will prevail. And that was our stupidity.

Q: One of the things you observed during this Japanese economic invasion of Hawaii was the willing participation of all levels of Hawaiian residents (as opposed to native Hawaiians.) This was presumably motivated by what? Getting a piece of the action?

Locricchio: Money. Hawaiian professionals had experienced other economic invasions, but they'd never seen anything like the Japanese invasion. Law firms overnight moved into marble-encrusted quarters because suddenly their Japanese clients were paying huge legal bills. Middle men who had operated in political arenas and gotten mediocre money for it suddenly saw opportunities to make tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and moved quickly, effectively, and were there, at the right place, the right time, for a very high price.

Q: So what they did was help supply the grease.

Locricchio: That's right. It couldn't have worked without the local establishment supplying the grease, giving the direction.

Q: Place Gene and Nora Lum in this spectrum of players.

Locricchio: Gene and Nora Lum come out of nowhere in the mid-1980s....They placed themselves through luck or happenstance in with major players who were developing major resorts that were totally financed by Japanese foreign dollars. And because of an ignorance of the system, Nora and Gene were able to convince these players of their contacts.

Q: So Nora and Gene Lum present themselves to these money people as fixers. They can work one end of the political machine to the other and help get things done, help clear the way. Can you give us an example?

Locricchio: There are three key examples [of when] the Lums really use their fixer skills: One that affects a project outside of Hawaii, and two here in Hawaii. The one that I'm most familiar with is the one that's here in the valley I live in, and that's how I became acquainted with them.

....Mount Olomana is one of Hawaii's scenic treasures. It's Japanese-owned, and we believe...Nora Lum...was partially responsible for bringing the Japanese land buyer to this valley and buying 1,090 acres of land here in Hawaii for only $7 million. In Hawaii, that's an incredible bargain.

After they were able to buy the state legislative vote change, that land became worth $40-50 million overnight....They made a profit of $30-40 million overnight.

Q: At least a paper profit in terms of value. And the reason it was suddenly so much more valuable is because with the change of law, they could develop it for a golf course. What is there now?

A: Finally, there is a golf course. It was delayed for several years while we fought against it. An uphill battle, to say the least, no pun intended with the mountain. They actually built a golf course on the side of a mountain. It is a ridiculous location for a golf course, but in Japan they were selling memberships at $250,000 per membership. That did not even give the owners of the membership a piece of the land. They just got a membership, and then they would have fees over and above that on an annual basis.

Q: It was a membership in a golf course that had not yet been built and whose construction depended on the change in the law.

A: They had to get zoning changes, law changes, conditional use permits, and instead they sold the memberships to finance it before they ever built the course. Fortunately we were able to stop that kind of thing occurring in the future by going to Japan, where we found a very receptive [legislature] who, to protect their own citizens, then changed the law so that no sales in Japan could occur until the golf course was built. That didn't effect this one because it had already occurred.

Q: Who were the people with the money who connected with the Lums?

Locricchio: That spectrum of people was everyone from legitimate Japanese established businesses and the largest corporations in Japan to the criminal yakuza, which is the Japanese Mafia,...[and] secretaries, who came in to buy condos. This became the Hong Kong bargain: get your suits tailored there because they're the cheapest.

Q: What is the interest of the yakuza in Hawaiian golf development?

Locricchio: ...The incredible amounts of money....Before we went into Japan with a story of what was going on here, there were reservations for thousands of memberships at $250,000 each, which was hundreds of millions of dollars before the golf course would even be built. There was an incredible amount of money to be made during this window before the Japanese economic bubble burst.

Q: Who acquired land for the golf course project in which the Lums were involved?

Locricchio: Pachinko parlor owners, of the largest pachinko parlor chain. A quasi-legal form of gambling in Japan is pachinko parlors. Historically, to run those you needed yakuza or organized crime approvals. And the people who own this particular golf course were Korean nationals who were living in Japan, using Japanese names [and] came into Hawaii using their Japanese name and not their actual name....When we found out what [developer Yasuo Yasuda's] real name was, we found out there was a criminal record....

And so when we screamed, "You're letting this guy with a criminal background come in here. Aren't you inspecting it?" the state says, "Gee, we'll look into that," etc. The immigration people who hadn't been bought moved to remove the guy from Hawaii once they found out he didn't reveal his criminal background on his visa application. He was back here in no time at all. How he got back in, we don't know. We know that it took very high political influence to bring him back in, in spite of the zeal and desire of the local INS to get him out of here.

Q: So we have a Korean national with dubious ties to the Japanese syndicate and an interest in golf course development in Hawaii. What about the farmers who still lived on the land?

Locricchio: ...Because we were able to raise a fairly high political outcry of the community here, they had to agree to protect the farmers...They agreed to move the farmers to another location that wouldn't conflict with their golf course...They got approvals based on that [and] it was the number one condition that they had to abide by. They then went in and made contributions to the local city government [that was] to enforce those conditions.

We even got the city council to demand that the mayor investigate by unanimous vote--[for the] first time ever--the violations of those conditions. The mayor refused. No investigation was ever made, and the bulk of the farmers were forced to leave by threat, false police eviction notices, [and] Wild West tactics, including killing the bulls and stealing cattle.

Q: Tell me about that.

A: The bulk of the farmers were told by quasi-government officials, dressed up in police uniforms, that they had to leave immediately....The remainder, the few that were left, contacted me...They had only 48 hours to get out of Dodge and were petrified. We were able to keep them there for about four more years through all kinds of legal tactics.

Q: But what had been their legal claim to the land? They were leasees?

Locricchio: They were leasees who had been told they would be offered the land by the former land owner. And when the land owner died, and his trustees took over, they sold the land on the condition that the new buyers had to deal with the farmers....

Q: How were people forced from their homes?

Locricchio: Either they were intimidated off [the land] or finally the rancher's cattle were stolen, killed, and they were threatened by cowboys with guns, and they had to flee from their land, leaving their cattle unprotected. They went to the police, nothing happened.

Paniolo is the Hawaiian term for cowboy. Some of these people were known to be associated with Hawaiian crime syndicates, and the knowledge of who they were brought fear to local people. They picked up and ran, which was a very wise thing to do.

Q: In this particular case we're talking here, were these paniolos literally on horseback?

Locricchio: Oh yes. Most people don't realize that the largest privately-owned cattle ranch is here in Hawaii on the Big Island. Cattle has always been a big part of Hawaiian involvement, and we have our own history and culture of good, legitimate, wonderful Hawaiian cowboys who ranched. And so even this island, which is the most populated, had [its] paniolos, and many times they made side money by other kinds of activities.

Q: So one day, the Japanese golf course development interests through the Lums employ a group of paniolos and others to forcefully evict a group of ranchers and farmers from the site of their proposed golf course.

Locricchio: They targeted the rancher [Leonard Wong] first we believe as a lesson to the rest, as a "Here's what's going to happen to you if you don't get out of here."...They actually went in, and the paniolos came with trucks to haul the cattle out...

Q: Gene Lum was with these riders when they came in?

Locricchio: Gene Lum was there, went to see [Leonard and Cheryl Wong] the night before, told them they were going to move their cattle just temporarily while this activity was going on in the valley, and it would be best if they didn't come the next day, because there'd be a lot of confusion. They suspected that something might be going on, showed up and saw not only their cattle were being taken, their fences were being wrapped up, their watering troths, [but] everything was being stolen right in front of their eyes. And when they called up the police on 911, they didn't come. When we went to the police afterwards, no action was taken.

Q: And I gather that the Wong's prize stud bull perished in this exercise.

Locricchio: We were fortunate because one of the residents here at the a great telescope person, and he was president of the community association up above. And he actually watched the paniolos run down this prize bull [and] shoot it. They had their butchering equipment with them, sawed up the meat, put it in meat trays they brought along. So they fully intended to do this.

Gene Lum later told the press that they had to kill the bull because it charged these riders who were there to protect people. He did not tell the press that he pocketed the money from the sale [of the cattle to a dairy]. Fortunately for us, it was the undoing of Gene Lum's activities in this valley because it brought down huge media coverage, and Gene Lum made the unpardonable political fixture sin of being caught publicly doing no-nos. And taking the cover off the corruption that was going on.

Q: The preferred method being to move silently and quietly and out of sight.

Locricchio: He was immediately fired as fixer attorney.

Q: Gene Lum and this group of paniolos arrive bearing carving trays and butchering utensils, chase down this prize bull, carve him up, butcher it, and sell the meat?

Locricchio: Gene Lum was the traditional Western movie fixer. He never went and got his hand bloody. He got the money, he put it in his pocket, and did not get involved with the actual [carnage]. To picture Gene Lum on a horse defies my imagination.

Q: Can you imagine this would have occurred without his knowledge?

Locricchio: Oh no, he was there. He was on the scene....He was with state officials who were doing other activities on the land at that day. He knew exactly what was going on. He was there the night before at our peoples' houses....Even Gene Lum would not deny that he knew what was going on and went to the press afterwards and talked about his involvement.

Q: How did this effect the relationship between the developers and the Lums?

Locricchio: It caused a major breakdown.

We believe that money paid to state officials was to stop a public government road from being used by the public. All arrangements had been made at that very point to have the [Old Government Road] that ran smack-dab through the middle of this golf course transferred quietly to the foreign owner. That road goes through some of the most beautiful vistas in all of Hawaii, breathtaking.

...Suddenly the floodlight was on that whole transaction, and on the state officials who were trying to hush [it up and] quickly move it through. Suddenly the mask was ripped off, and to this day Old Government Road still moves through that golf course, thanks to Gene Lum's blunder and stupidity,... except that if you go on it you take your life in your hands. There are dogs set to attack you...

Q: Even though it's still a public road?

Locricchio: Even though it's still a public road, because you couldn't get protection....[It] cost the landowner a fortune because he had to change his golf course plans...around the eventuality that the public would be walking through the middle of the sixth and seventh fairway and etc., etc.

Q: And he was thereafter finished with the Lums.

Locricchio: He then said good-bye to the Lums, and the Lums moved on to greener pastures.

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 party?

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 was lost...

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 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 States....

...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 crime.

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?

Locricchio: Yes.

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 afterwards.

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 the developers?

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 "good" farmers.

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 course owners.

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 on.

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 on...

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.

Q: Payment?

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 contact.

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.


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